The only way we can keep Americans fully employed and maintain our global lead is by constantly improving their productivity and skills, writes Vivek Wadhwa, a senior research associate for the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, in an op-ed in today’s Washington Post. In his op-ed, “On jobs, Obama needs to be a radical,” published on the eve on the president’s address to the nation, Wadhwa writes that American companies must be provided with the incentives to invest in their workers .
Wadhwa, a technology entrepreneur, is also an executive in residence/adjunct professor for the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University and a columnist for BusinessWeek.com. His company, Relativity Technologies, was named one of the 25 “coolest” companies in the world by Fortune Magazine.
On jobs, Obama needs to be a radical
Bailouts for banks. Subsidies for chosen industries. Tax breaks for the rich.These are some of the remedies that our government has used in its attempt to fix the economy and reduce unemployment. As we’ve seen, they don’t work. The President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness is now proposing that we increase the number of engineers that we graduate — a strategy driven by fear of a mythical engineer shortage.
It’s clear that we’re just grasping at straws. Meanwhile, globalization continues to wreak havoc on employment. Eventually, it is going to cause entire industries to disappear and force American workers to compete with their counterparts all over the world. The only way we can keep Americans fully employed and maintain our global lead is by constantly improving their productivity and skills.
In a bygone era, the skills you learned in school could carry you through your career. But today, lifelong learning is a necessity. Americans have to understand that education doesn’t end when they graduate from college. That is when it begins.
American companies must be provided with the incentives to invest in their workers as they used to. As recently as the 1970s, America’s most respected companies would make significant investments in workforce training. IBM, for example, took non-technical workers and taught them technical skills. They then trained these technicians to be computer programmers, sales reps, or product managers. New recruits received a year or more of training before they were expected to become productive.
Today, nearly all American companies, including IBM, expect new hires to be productive on day one. These employees are given a day or two of “orientation” at best. Companies routinely fire people whose skills are obsolete and hire replacements with the right skills to maximize quarterly revenue and profits. Employers often fear that if they spend too much on skill development, employees will become more marketable and leave.
This logic is based on false assumptions. Industry learned this lesson in one of the most unlikely places: India.
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