Most of you who are reading this are in education, and most are in the US. We are preparing the next generation to take roles in the US culture, society, and workplace. And to participate in the workplace, there have to be good jobs. Are there, in fact, going to be jobs, for today’s students?
The World Economic Forum publishes an annual study of the world’s economies and how attractive they are for business. With all the talk about high tax rates, crumbling infrastructure, and bloated government in the US, the report’s conclusions are that “Switzerland, Singapore and the United States remain the three world’s most competitive economies.”
In terms of size, the US is the world's largest economy. Switerland’s economy is 19th and is 1/30th the size of the US, and Singapore is 37th and is 1/3 the size of Switzerland’s. The US looks great compared to other large economies, China is the 28th, Japan is 8th, Germany is 5th in terms of competitiveness.
Overall, growth around the globe has slowed, due to low productivity gains, increased income inequality, and aging populations. But there is a promise for future higher economic growth due to a “Fourth Industrial Revolution” based on digital platforms and technologies that converge physical, digital, and biological applications. Some of the most promising areas are artificial intelligence, biotechnology, robotics, the Internet of Things, and advanced manufacturing such as 3D printing.
If I were directing school, district, state, or federal education policy, I would be preparing students for leadership in these fields. In fact, the report concludes that “an increasingly important element of competitiveness is creating an enabling environment for innovation.”
The process of starting to produce new products and new sectors is incredibly difficult; education is only one piece. Two good models for focused effective strategies are the Dominican Republic, which set up the National Productivity and Competitiveness Initiative as a public-private partnership and Colombia which set up a National System of Competitiveness to coordinate initiatives of the government with the private sector, schools, and civil society on issues related to productivity and economic development. While the US as a whole is much larger than either country, these could be great models for state or county initiatives here.
Compared to the rest of the world, the US is in pretty good shape. We should feel lucky to live here. Not that we can’t do better, and not that we don’t have to move forward. As a society, and as the people who will most influence the next generation, we need to focus on programs and activities that will increase equality and prepare students for the jobs of the fourth industrial evolution.