The connection between school, work, and community is one that's not often made -- but it should be. When treated individually we get stories about dropout rates that are higher than ever, the decline in a skilled labor force in America, and the inability of localities to attract business investment. Taken together it is fairly clear that an investment in the first of these, education (and a high school diploma, specifically), will lead to improvements in the other two.
Consider what the December 2005 Skills Gap Report from the National Association of Manufacturers told the world. Their survey of business executives and human resources officers indicated that over the next three years the workforce will be looking for employees with the following skills:
* Reading, Writing, Communication Skills (51%)
* Ability to Read and Translate Drawings/Diagrams/Flow Charts (39%)
* Math skills (39%)
Many, if not all, of these skills can be gained by graduating from high school and getting a diploma. What's amazing is that in all the talk about outsourcing of labor there has been little discussion about how to invest in order to retain business in the United States or how to prepare a skilled labor force for the years ahead. It is tough to argue that public debate has really even started on this topic, do a quick Google news search of the term "human capital" and you get the sense that this is very much a development issue in other countries but not the U.S.
Fortunately, some -- like the author of "A Farewell to Alms" -- are making the argument now about the relationship between wealthy nations and a skilled labor force. Looking squarely at productivity as the driving force behind wealth creation some economists are beginning to demonstrate how much the investment in a labor force can yield great benefits to individuals and nations alike. Some areas of the U.S., like Smyth County in Virginia have already identified skills gaps that need to be met, but these efforts are largely focused on reconnecting with those who have graduated from high school but left the area. A more stategic approach might be to invest local schools now to ensure that more students graduate and a greater pool of skilled labor is available for manufacturers to utilize.