Enhancing Workplace Skills

A recent study by the Canadian Policy Research Networks concludes that the spread of computers in the workplace is wiping out job opportunities for unskilled workers. It points out that although computers have created more jobs than they have destroyed, employers have used computer-based technology to eliminate unskilled jobs and have not given displaced workers the training they need to move into new, high-skill jobs.

In low-tech companies, managers and professionals comprise 15% of all workers, with 36% comprising the unskilled. In high-tech firms, 31% of workers are managers and 10% are unskilled. The biggest losers are in ìintermediate jobs,î mainly clerical jobs in corporate purchasing, accounting departments and in banks and insurance companies. What is happening to our unskilled worker?

Widespread resistance still exists to preparing U.S. students for careers other than those requiring a four-year college degree. The occupational explosion in new and expanding technologies is providing opportunities in entry-level jobs offered by high-tech office/production/service business. However, many of our students lack the ability to apply mathematics, science, reading and writing skills; know how to work cooperatively; or have used the computer as a tool for problem solving.

Business Steps In

American businesses are designing their own education curriculum to build a workforce linked to the particular strategies, culture and mission of their own organization. Online ìcyber campusesî are growing.

For example, students in 13 Western states, among them IS professionals seeking job and certification training, have enrolled in Western Governor Associationís University (WGU). Using the Internet, e-mail, CD-ROMs, interactive video networks, television, cable and a satellite system, WGU will offer courses from dozens of western colleges and universities across its cyber-campuses. WGU will also provide certification and job training that it is co-developing with companies such as Intel, Micron, Motorola, Novell and U.S. West.

On another front, Public Broadcasting Services and The Williams Co. Inc. have created ìThe Business Channelî to be fully operational by July, 1997. According to Keith E. Bailey, chairman, president and CEO, ìThe Business Channel helps corporate Americaís need to provide easily accessible continuing education to employees at all levels, which will be essential if they are to stay at the top of their fields in our rapidly changing world.î

A significant amount of activity surrounds the corporate university concept. Businesses believe designing their own educational curriculum is the best way to fill the gap between what is taught in academic institutions and what corporations require from the employees. Rapid growth in formal training demonstrates how more employers are committed to providing employee-based training.

However, most American businesses now state it is ìtoo costlyî to train young people for their entry-level jobs. The role of the corporate university is limited to managerial issues. Thus the need exists for young entry-level workers who are well-educated, technically able and good problem-solvers.

Some Considerations

Predictions by the U.S. Dept. of Labor indicate new and expanding technologies will translate into 80% of the new jobs in the next 10 years. Most of these jobs will not require a college degree but will require specialized preparation.

To assist in the above, consider the following, among others:

  • The majority of U.S. students need a lot more than just "basic skills."
  • Parents and students need to plan educational and career goals based on accurate information, not ìmedia glitz.î
  • Organizations will want to ensure that people can work together. Collaboration across functions will be provided.
  • Business and education need to better understand how to work together.
  • Work force education involvement must be encouraged among small-, medium- and large-sized business groups.
  • Retraining will be available over an employeeís lifetime.
  • Courses offered at training centers, and which are vendor specific, are increasing.
  • Online learning is relatively inexpensive.
  • The Web abounds with sources for learning.

Industry and education forces are joining together to help win the increasingly competitive race for technology jobs

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/1997 issue of THE Journal.