03 February 2014

Tailoring Education for Jobs - Changing Education for a Changed Economy

There is, in educational fields, an on-going tension between the idea of education to prepare our nation's youth to become the employees that companies want to hire and education that creates a whole person. On the one extreme, education is merely job training for the corporation turned into public investment. On the other extreme, education is some lofty examination of history and the human condition in ways that shows disdain for the grubby reality of making a living.

There is nothing like a Great Recession and high levels of unemployment sustained for much too long to tilt public opinion towards the first of those extremes: schools should create the workers that companies need, pundits say.

I know I risk sounding like a broken record, but if in this century we are to popularize entrepreneurship as we popularized knowledge work in the last century, it suggests a different take on what it means to tailor education for jobs.The new education should not just focus on creating skills that would get them hired; it should also focus on the skills that let them hire.

An entrepreneur creates jobs rather than prepares for one. An education that raises the probability that someone will become an entrepreneur seems like the right kind of tailoring of education for jobs.

Let existing companies compete not just in the market for products and services they offer but in the labor market for the quality and potential of the jobs they offer. Obviously we don't have enough competition there; if we did, wages would be high and unemployment would be low rather than vice versa.We are short on jobs because we are short on the entrepreneurs who create new ventures that need new employees.

Policy makers remain stuck in a world in which they think our limits to economic growth are still capital and education to create knowledge workers. If the last 10 to 20 years of economic performance in the West have not brought that into question, I'm not sure what will. Our new limit is entrepreneurship, the ability to create jobs and wealth and to tailor institutions to who we are rather than some abstract ideal. It's time our educational system began to prepare students for that reality.

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