Tomorrow’s Future Workforce

Blog Post #1: Tomorrow’s Future Workforce (When Minority becomes Majority)…

keith cooley from greenlancer site

As a young teen in Pontiac, Michigan one of my favorite daydreams was of going back in time… the 1860’s … the “Wild West”. I’d be equipped with the latest technology… All the COOL stuff a kid my age could think of… a fast off-road motorbike; a high-powered rifle with scope; flashlights, etc. … You get the picture. With such modern technology I’d be king of the world!!! You can also guess what threw cold water all over that idea. It’s this: “…So what happens when you run out of gas… or bullets… or batteries…? It’s 1860…REMEMBER?”

Now fast forward… we find ourselves in similar circumstances today relative to what I call our “future tech” capability. We have the wherewithal to innovate, design and manufacture technology that makes us the envy of the world… the products and processes to save us all from the harsh specter of global warming, environmental catastrophe and so forth.… but as we move closer to the year 2040 we lose that ability in dramatic fashion. Not from a scarcity of materials nor a diminished capacity to generate power… rather we run out of an educated, knowledge-based workforce driven, in part, by our own inability to train America’s future majority … our communities of color.

As many of you know, census data show that somewhere in the next 25 to 30 years this country will experience a cataclysmic shift in demographic makeup.  Today, Whites hold majority status in America while our communities of color (viz. Blacks, Hispanics, Arab Americans, Native Americans, etc.) are in the minority. By the year 2043 we will face a different reality … one where communities of color have become the “composite majority” and Whites are relegated to minority status.

Those facts by themselves, while worthy of note, are in no way a threat to our way of life … until we see them against the backdrop of a longstanding American tragedy i.e. the failure of our system to properly educate these communities.

With a few notable exceptions, our instructional system does a dismal job of preparing its minority citizens for life in a constantly changing, high tech manufacturing world whose products are enabled by increasingly complex software. So from cars to computers; smart phones to security systems; healthcare to helicopters and everything in between … knowledge-based education is key to the workforce that produces these goods. Everyone in the system must be properly trained, from “C-suite” executives to factory maintenance teams.

As you’ve most likely guessed, communities of color are the segment of our society least prepared to be a part of that workforce. Don’t get me wrong… there’s a lot more that goes into preparing this segment of American citizenry for the future. As Dr. Leonard Greenhalgh, author of “When Minorities Become the Majority – The Vision for 2050” says:

“We’ll need to make adjustments in a wide variety of domains—among them: public policy, supplier diversity efforts, urban economic vitality and social stability, wealth creation in poor rural communities, workforce planning, immigration policy, management of the national education system, the adequacy of retirement resources, the ability to serve domestic-emerging markets, and competitive advantage in a global business context.”

Agreed. However, my “Aha” moment is fixed on education and achievement gaps in education … especially at the University level. So let’s look briefly at the statistics. From “Closing the College Achievement Gap” comes this report:

“About half of Americans from low-income backgrounds go on to attend college, compared to about two-thirds of middle-income Americans and 80 percent of those with large incomes. Barely two in five black and Hispanic freshmen earn a bachelor’s degree within six years of entering college, compared to about 60 percent of white freshmen and 64 percent of Asian Americans.

And white Americans are twice as likely as black Americans and three times as likely as Hispanic Americans to have earned a bachelor’s degree by the age of 29.” (http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2007/10/31/system)

Lots of reasons have been put forth for why this is so, including: “they’re not bright enough to succeed”; “their life circumstances impede their progress” and (the ever popular)… “they just don’t want to learn”. The real answer, however, is that America, as a whole, hasn’t cared enough to have the commitment and make the sacrifices that address this growing ugly educational failure. All of us are to blame … whether we are black or white, rich or poor, teachers or students or parents… whether we are part of the “haves” or the “have-nots”.

But more importantly, from my point of view, the blame isn’t shared equally across the spectrum of American life. A wise man once said, “To those whom much is given, much is expected.” In this case, those with the most clout, wealth, and position, no matter the arena (e.g. political, financial, educational, etc.) must shoulder the greater portion of responsibility. In fact without their real and substantive commitment to fixing this “bridge to better outcomes” for America’s “underclass” … we will never succeed.

I like to think of the country as a large ocean-going luxury liner that has become the envy of the world because of its ability to create, manufacture and distribute goods and services that global ports-of-call want.  But based on the realities we’ve just reviewed… It’s obvious that in a short time that ship will begin to lose power and drift dangerously close to a large and perilous iceberg (I’m calling it the “educational achievement gaps” iceberg;-). That’s a BIG problem…

And it’s ours to collectively solve. Those who are well off can’t say to those in need… “Sorry… but this is your problem”. We can no more do this than passengers in the suites of a luxury liner can say to those in steerage “you better fix that hole in the hull or you’ll drown”.  Yes, those in steerage risk being drowned, but so do we all.  Simply put, when any one segment of our country is in danger … we are all in danger. Let’s figure out how to fix it!

Note: Excerpts from “When Minorities Become the Majority…” found here

Keith Cooley is CEO of management consulting firm Principia, LLC. He specializes in creating unique solutions to the tough, expensive problems that keep leadership teams awake at night and especially enjoys working with senior leaders who understand the benefit of seasoned, unbiased and independent professional counsel.

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