Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Aren't educated in Oregon

"Aren't educated in Oregon" is the catch phrase that underlines Oregon's failure in economic growth. I lifted it from the Oregonian's Betsy Hammond's recent article Wilsonville, Lake Oswego tech jobs wow education leaders, prompt talk of more engineering lessons in schools.

Ms Hammond noted that although there are tech firms locally "[m]ost of the people who hold those engaging, largely tech-related jobs -- and earn the big bucks doing so -- aren't educated in Oregon, however."

It seemed odd to me that these education leaders apparently just had an aha moment. Tech jobs have been important since the 1960s - why are Oregon educators just now talking of more engineering related school lessons?

It would have seemed that given the success of NASA and the growth in the various technology centers in the years subsequent to the 60s moon landing would have led educators to focus on science, technology, engineering and math. Why are we lagging?

And, it is one thing to 'land' tech companies, e.g., Intel, via tax incentives and the like, but it is a failure of the education system that "too few students emerge from local high schools and colleges with the necessary skills and orientation" to be employed in these companies.

The state and cities like Portland like to tout jobs created, except they fail to recognize or mention that many, if not most, of these jobs are filled by non-Oregonians.

Moreover, students should not be educated only to fill local jobs, but they should be educated to become self-sufficient wherever they might live. It shouldn't take the efforts of local tech companies to educate the educators about career paths.

But, these education professionals are apparently ignorant about career paths available in the local tech companies. Eye-opening according to the educators. One wonders how professional educators could be unaware of these career paths which are not peculiar to the local companies. Isn't there career counseling in high school?

What is education for if not to position students to be self-sufficient? But, there seems to be no coordination between education provided and the job market. Teaching the traditional core subjects is no longer sufficient. The push now is found in the acronym STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math).

This excerpt from Wikipedia entry STEM fields:
"STEM fields is an acronym for the fields of study in the categories of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The acronym has been used regarding access to United States work visas for immigrants who are skilled in these fields. It has also become commonplace in education discussions as a reference to the shortage of skilled workers and inadequate education in these areas. The initiative began to address the perceived lack of qualified candidates for high-tech jobs. It also addresses concern that the subjects are often taught in isolation, instead of as an integrated curriculum. Maintaining a citizenry that is well versed in the STEM fields is a key portion of the public education agenda of the United States."
It is a nicely formed paragraph that places everything into perspective. Immigration is a means of filling skilled work positions because of the lack of qualified US applicants. That lack can be laid at the foot of the educational system.

Maybe 'better late than never' is appropriate attitude now, but it is odd that other countries seeing the lead of the United States in technology and science fashioned their education systems in a STEM orientation while the US languished.

But there is a danger in any rush to push only the tech related jobs. While technology covers a wide variety of careers, e.g., even an auto mechanic needs technology skills, there are many well paying skill jobs in other fields not thought to be technology (or hi-tech) related, e.g., welding.

I remember not too many years ago attending a PDC meeting where industry representatives were making a point and seeking PDC assistance in filing welding jobs. Welders are not only highly skilled but they are well paid. These employers were offering good pay, benefits and training. They were begging for qualified applicants.

High schools may no be able to graduate students job ready. But, it is high school where students can grasp the idea that education has value. "If students have an idea of what could be, then they'll strive to get there." [Maryalice Russell, superintendent of McMinnville schools].

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