Why America Needs To Start Educating Its Workforce Again
by Vivek Wadhwa on Mar 27, 2010
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Ask any old-time IBMer, and you will hear stories of IBM’s legendary workforce-development practices. When a manager identified a manufacturing worker with promise, the company would teach him how to dress, how to speak to clients, and how to service products. These technicians would then be trained to be computer programmers, sales reps, or product managers.
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If you do get hired, it’s up to you to stay current or get booted out with the first dip in sales. American corporations consider their workforce to be disposable — like ball-point pens and cigarette lighters. Gone are the days when a company would train a factory worker to become a computer programmer or offer lifelong employment. It’s all about quarterly revenue and profits now.
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The Indian experience highlights what can be achieved by investing in upgrading the skills of the workforce. If workforce training can take the output of an education system as weak as India’s and turn its graduates into world-class engineers and scientists, imagine what could be done with a worker base that has received amongst the best education in the world, as is the case in the United States.
U.S. companies have long played the guru, developing and disseminating many widely adopted management and workforce practices. The time has come for the guru to learn from one of its disciples: India.
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Once upon a time, AT&T was like IBM as well. One of my early achievements was proposing Computer Operators be trained as Programmers. I had “the Charter”. Took the project from: “We need programmers.” to graduating 21 of the initially 22. (Darn girl! Went and decided she’d rather have a baby. She shoulda waited; ruined my talking point. She came back from maternity leave and successfully tested. But, I didn’t get credit for her. Still don’t understand why?)
Vivek hits upon a key change needed in the American business meme. “Quarterly”! We, as a society, have to figure out how to change the meme of “company” from a short-term focused entity to a long-term focused one. A company is “eternal”; unlike human beings. And, it is a creation of the government, so it should be easy. It’s all rooted in the tax code. We see corporations as “paying taxes” when if fact they just pass them on to real people and hide the tax in the cost of the product. To change the company focus, several things have to happen: realign corporate management’s desire to the long term, change investor’s expectations to the long term, and — probably the hardest — change the government’s rules. Management annual salaries should be limited to less than POTUS (President Of The United States) makes; bonuses should be in the form of long term bonds. (That will cure that short term viewpoint in 30 minutes or less!) Investors, to encourage sticking for the long term, should get a real “capital gains” tax break — most of the time your “capital gain” is inflation; not a real gain — ZERO tax for investments held for say a decade. And, the government — well they are probably incurable — we need stable money, low taxes, and low spending. (Like that’s going to happen with out a revolution!)
We can start on “education” by ending “public education” as we know it. It took seven decades to get into this mess; probably take seven to get out of it. But parents should educate their children. They are the ones who had them, have their best interests at heart, and have the motivation from them to succeed. Education expense today has no ROI. It’s a mess.
We have a lot to do to recapture the American Dream!
[When I worked with Vivek, was he this smart? Didn’t seem so at the time. Maybe I’m the dummy.]
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