For years the U.S. has been the center of the world's economy. That was largely due to our culture of innovation and a once world-class education system. As the president of a small manufacturer it frightens me to see the dramatic change in these two areas.
For U.S. manufacturers, staying competitive with developing markets requires extremely efficient processes, often based on high-end production equipment and machine tools. These sophisticated machines and processes need a skilled employee. Eighty percent of respondents to the NAM's (National Assn. of Manufacturers) skills gap report indicated they were facing a shortage of qualified employees. Earlier this year, the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) released two reports that showed the average 12th-grade reading score was the lowest since 1992 and less than one-quarter of 12th-graders scored at or above the proficient level in math. These findings underscore what many manufacturers face each day; the unmet need for workers who have the talent and skills necessary for a manufacturing job. These are not results that will support our country's status in the world market or as the leader in innovation and intellectual property.
I advocate strongly for career technical education to return to our high schools. While I applaud our local junior colleges for taking on much of this role now, it often comes too late in a student's education. Often, schools do not promote what many people today would call the trades. But this does our children, as well as our country, a disservice. Many kids who may not be college material just might be well-suited for a technical job. But without exposure to the possibility of a meaningful career, they drop out of high school. Instead, if we engage these kids and show them all of their opportunities, some may then have the motivation to apply themselves toward a degree.
The change needs to also be a cultural one. Where the U.S. was once proud to be the world's greatest manufacturing economy, we now place more emphasis on service-based industries. There is no longer any national sense of pride or status in actually making a tangible good.
In recently released results from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), U.S. students ranked 25th in math and 21st in science out of the 30 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). I think this speaks to where our country has shifted its priorities. We live in a culture that values sports and celebrity more than the ability to think critically or innovatively. To this end, Dean Kamen started the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition. My company is honored to be a supplier for this cause. But isn't it sad private groups and businesses have to create programs to get our kids interested in math and science? That without programs like these our kids never get the chance to build something or solve a critical problem?
Many economists are predicting China will soon outpace the U.S. on manufacturing. I can tell you why; they emphasize what is important in their educational process and they have a culture that values manufacturing. It's too bad America doesn't seem to know better than to turn its back on education and manufacturing. It is a cultural change that will erode the basis of our great nation.