Envisioning Education 4.0

Manufacturing 4.0 is a compelling vision of a new industrial transformation driven by increasingly rapid advances in digital technologies that are led by manufacturing but are spreading throughout the entire economy.  A major barrier to the fulfillment of that vision is the growing shortage of workers able to keep pace with those advances due largely to the persistent disconnect between the needs of the economy and what education is providing.   The most effective solution is a parallel “4.0” transformation of the nation’s education system.

Education 4.0 needs to start with an equally compelling vision.  The current education vision is well established: The first priority is to ensure that as many students as possible get into college, with “careers” identified as distinct from “college.” It is an exclusionary focus since only 30% of the population completes a college degree.  The system is run by and for educators, guided by academic success metrics such as college entry rates, math and English test scores, competitive ACT or SAT scores, acceptance at elite colleges, honor society memberships.  It is rigid, time-consuming and extraordinarily costly, with students burdened with college debt approaching $1.5 trillion, Students are funding hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of superfluous courses, with only 54% completing BA degrees, those who do taking six years rather than four, and most students leaving school without clearly defined career goals.

The Education 4.0 vision would be to give first priority to ensuring that ALL students are well equipped to secure productive employment in their chosen career pathway. The system would be technology driven and tightly aligned with the practical needs of the economy.  It would be guided by business success metrics: cost-effectiveness, quality, productivity, performance metrics, and responsiveness to the customer.  Since employers are the “customer” for qualified students, the business community would take the lead in setting education system goals and work far more closely with the schools to ensure that those goals are achieved.

To achieve its first priority of efficient job placement, Education 4.0 would infuse career development and career literacy into education at all stages, starting at a much earlier age than is currently the case.  Some key components:  (1)   Students would begin periodic field trips to workplaces no later than Grade 6: (2)  K-12 studies would increasingly use hands-on projects connected to practical applications in the economy; (3) by Grade 9, all students would develop personalized career and education plans; (4) every high school would have a highly professional, certified Career Development Advisor to assist students complete and follow their career plans and to act as a continuous point of contact between the school and the employer community; (5) parents would be required by law to sign off on their student’s personalized plans and to meet with the CDA at least once annually; (6) all students in Grade 10-12 would spend part of their summers in a workplace related to their chosen career pathway; (7) by Grade 12 all students would have a well-rounded education,  strong employability and critical thinking skills, and a nationally portable, industry-recognized credential  in their career pathway by Grade 12: (8) both long-term and shorter-term apprenticeships would be commonplace; (9) teachers would routinely have summer externships at workplace related to their specialization; (10) postsecondary education would be career pathway-based, with students going directly from high school into career-centric studies, including into medical school and law school.

The benefits of Education 4.0 abound.  For manufacturers and other technology-intensive sectors, the addition of many more students with nationally portable industry certifications would reduce the shortage of higher-skilled workers able to keep pace with technological change.  With Career Development Advisors, students and teachers all motivated to work with employers at a much earlier age, companies would have expanded influence on curriculum and could more easily identify students with the talents they are seeking while they are still in school.

For the economy, having a larger number of students with more advanced technology skills will increase company willingness to invest in new equipment and software, which will elevate labor productivity.  Faster productivity growth will, in turn, increase national economic growth.

Since students will be targeting their education to those courses directly related to their career goals, they will be better able to reduce their college debt by finishing their degrees on time and moving directly from high school to career-centric studies.  The benefits to the economy of students entering the workplace paying taxes and consuming goods much earlier and of reducing student debt dramatically would exceed $1 trillion annually.

Leo Reddy is the chairman and CEO of the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council (MSSC), an industry-led, non-profit training, assessment and certification organization focused on the core technical competencies needed by the nation’s front-line production and material handling workers.  Mr. Reddy has held this position since 2005. Under his leadership, MSSC developed two nationally portable certifications and related training programs:  the Certified Production Technician (CPT) and the Certified Logistics Technician (CLT).  Reddy wrote the two textbooks for the CLT training program.   MSSC is the only national industry certification body accredited under ISO quality standard 17024 (Personnel Certification) and endorsed by the National Association of Manufacturers for both manufacturing and logistics. 

This viewpoint is Reddy’s own and is not the official position of the MSSC board. 

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