Birth2Work

When Parents Lead, Children Succeed

Adding Value to the Workforce by Rick Stephens and Elane V. Scott

Adding Value to the Workforce by Rick Stephens and Elane V. Scott

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There are five capabilities Birth2Work has identified that all those who are ready to move into society should be capable of.

  1. Be economically self sufficient
  2. Communicate and interact clearly with others - both verbally and in writing
  3. Participate in the governance process
  4. Learn, unlearn and relearn on an ongoing basis
  5. Focus on the Future

*(Read OpEd: “Five Capabilities for Success in Life…Is Your Child Ready?”)

In honor of the 4th of July, we discussed #3 on this list - the importance of good citizenship and participation in the governance process (Read the full piece listed to the right). Today we focus on one of the factors of civic participation and political engagement – the skills adults need to work in today’s world.

In his May 1 opinion piece in The Washington Post, Fareed Zakaria discusses the results of a recent report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on adult skills in rich countries.

This is the first-ever comprehensive survey of the skills adults need to work in today’s world — in literacy, numeracy and technology. As with the Programme for International Student Assessment tests that the OECD conducts for fourth- and eighth-grade children, this survey is designed to test problem-solving and not rote memorization. Scoring well on these tests turns out to be directly related to jobs, rising wages and productivity, good health, and even civic participation and political engagement. Inequality of skills is closely correlated to inequality of income.

The picture of the United States is deeply troubling. Despite having the second-highest per capita GDP, the country does poorly along almost every dimension. It is below average in literacy and technological proficiency, and it’s third from the bottom in numeracy for 16- to 65-year-olds.

While making numerous relevant and incisive points in his piece, Mr. Zakaria moves past a startling point here rather quickly. Of those workers able to participate in the labor market of the United States, we rank “below average in literacy and technological proficiency”. This raises an important question about where in the “education system” literacy skills are developed. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recently gone so far as to release a policy statement on the importance of reading to children from infancy. Literacy issues are addressed and assessed in schools daily. (Note: The ability to communicate and interact clearly with others – both verbally and in writing is #2 on the above B2W list). But it’s the latter part of this statement – our below average proficiency in technology – that merits a double take.

While it may follow that older workers are apt to be less technically skilled due to a basic lack of familiarity and the fast pace of technological advancement in the workplace, how can it be that the 18-35 year olds…the “digital natives”…the generation obsessed with utilizing consumer tech devices in all aspects of their lives, aren’t so adept at utilizing technology that they pull our average up? Can it be they aren't actually learning technical proficiency that is valued in the workplace by swiping their fingers across flat screens and utilizing devices that were designed to be intuitive enough for a child (or house cat) to use? (wink, wink)

At Birth2Work we believe deeply (and research proves) that there is no substitute for active, engaged, multi-sensory learning from the earliest age. With this type of learning, learners of all ages are able to consider, engage, and react under dynamic circumstances – the way work naturally occurs in business and industry. Parents can support this type of learning from the moment their child is born, starting with frequent tummy time (thus initiating cross lateral exercises that stimulate brain function and learning), reading regularly with their children to encourage early literacy, and keeping digital toys and TV screens away from a child in favor of real life engagement (in order to help the child practice and gain confidence in dynamic situations). These practices help ready the child for entering the classroom and, eventually, the workforce. The first few years of a child’s life significantly impact their capability for success in life and is the real beginning of their entrance into an “educational system”...waiting for school to shape their potential is far too late.

Our current formal education system that tests children’s ability to regurgitate facts and praises the ability to look up information (“Google it”) instead of discuss, apply, and contribute new elements to a given topic, is an attempt to codify the complex ways in which people actually think and learn into something simple and repeatable. And in the discussion of what skills are necessary for success in the workforce now, and for the future, critical and creative thinking skills in a dynamic environment are foremost.

“…Linear thinking is becoming less useful as a model than complex, intuitive thinking,” points out Joi Ito, activist, entrepreneur, venture capitalist and Director of the MIT Media Lab. His recent TED talk is centered on this idea. “The most important things that we do in the world today are about orchestrating complexity.” As Mr. Zakaria well concludes, “The biggest force behind falling American rankings is not that the United States is doing things much worse but that other countries have caught up and are doing better. The U.S. system of education and training is inadequate in the new global environment.” There are many who agree with this point and are focused on improving what goes on in the classroom in order to better prepare students for life beyond it.

So how is an American worker supposed to add value to the workforce? First, parents need to set the pattern from the time their children are born so that when they are ready to enter for classroom their children have the core foundation necessary for success in the classroom, the workforce, and life. Then, see #4 in our 5 Capabilities list above: Learn, unlearn and relearn on an ongoing basis. Workers able to act proactively, think critically, offer creative solutions to complex issues, and embrace change will find themselves most valuable at every stage of their career, regardless of industry.