HD18 - Study of Preparing a Skilled Workforce for the 21st Century
The purpose of HJR 143, introduced by Delegate Robert Harris of Fairfax County, was to determine the efficacy of state public education institutions in preparing a skilled workforce for the 21st century. To accomplish this purpose, HJR 143 authorized a study to be conducted by the State Board of Education and the State Council of Higher Education, in cooperation with the Virginia Community College System. The implied, underlying question of HJR 143 was, "Will the Virginia workforce be prepared for the 21st century?" To begin answering this critical question, the study team focused on the field of complex manufacturing technology and on both entry-level and first-line supervisory positions to identify and implement model procedures for studying other occupational areas. The decision to concentrate on the manufacturing industry was based on the emphasis in HJR 143 on numerical-control machinery, computer-integrated and flexible-response manufacturing, and instruction in mathematics and the sciences.
Information was obtained from the literature; from representatives of large and small manufacturing businesses; and from educators at the secondary, community college, and senior college or university levels of instruction. Data collection methods included a mail survey, interviews with manufacturing business personnel, and two project events, "Manufacturing Workforce 2000" and "Focus: Education for Manufacturing Workforce 2000." Both of these events enabled business representatives and educators to discuss issues and develop recommendations for effective workforce preparation programs. Agreement was reached concerning inclusion in workforce preparation programs of the critical competencies identified in this study.
Critical competencies were defined as the workforce skills of the future rated as first in each category of competencies, for entry-level workers and first-line supervisors, by respondents representing both large and small manufacturing firms in Virginia. Categories of competencies included reasoning and problem solving, speaking and listening, teamwork, personal work habits, reading, writing, computation, and business principles. Critical competencies for entry-level workers were identified as follows: devise new ways of handling recurring problems; participate effectively in discussions; participate as a team member toward a common goal; exhibit a willingness to learn; assimilate the contents of technical documents and memos; gather information necessary for a purpose; add, subtract, multiply, and divide whole numbers, decimals, and fractions accurately; and understand the roles of money, capital, investment, product pricing, cost, profit, and productivity. Critical competencies for first-line supervisors included the following: consider and evaluate possible alternative solutions, weighing both risks and benefits; give clear, concise instructions; demonstrate respect for the opinions, customs, and individual differences of others; exhibit a willingness to learn; assimilate the contents of technical documents and memos; organize information in a logical and coherent manner; determine the cost, time, or resources necessary for a task; and understand the roles of money, capital investment, product pricing, cost, profit, and productivity.
The major conclusion of this study is that the Virginia workforce will not be prepared for the 21st century unless the critical competencies are developed. This and supporting conclusions are based on findings of the study, particularly changes in required workforce skills that require adaptations in workforce preparation, such as a shift from task to project, an increase in teamwork, an ability to work without direct supervision, a higher level of cognitive ability required for workers, and an increased understanding of global economic principles.
If the current trend in complex manufacturing technology continues, only those applicants who can demonstrate the critical competencies are likely even to be considered for employment. If students at all instructional levels are to be prepared for the present and future workforce, they must be specifically, practically, and realistically prepared for a very challenging and demanding job and career scenario with nothing certain but change. Although this major conclusion and other supporting conclusions are specific to the Commonwealth of Virginia and to the field of complex manufacturing technology, they may have broader application.
Recommendations of the study focus on coordinating statewide workforce preparation efforts and implementing the development of the critical competencies at three instructional levels -- secondary schools, community colleges, and senior higher education institutions. The following recommendations, which are based on findings of the study and are intended to apply to all workforce preparation, are offered as measures to help ensure that the Virginia workforce will be ready for the 21st century:
1. The Workforce Leadership Council (WLC), composed of agency heads with employment and training responsibilities, should coordinate the various workforce preparation studies and initiatives to produce a statewide program designed to ensure development of the critical competencies identified in this study.
2. The workforce preparation program should include implementation and evaluation of efforts to develop the critical competencies; provision for youth and adults who have had no opportunities to be prepared for the present or future workforce; and a public information campaign to inform students, parents, educators, and employers of the urgency of workforce preparation for the 21st century.
3. A team of business representatives and educators representing secondary schools, community colleges, and senior educational institutions should formulate recommendations for development of the critical competencies at appropriate levels of depth and complexity, including staff development programs focusing on workforce issues and trends in relation to the counseling and career preparation of students.
4. Whenever possible, secondary schools, community colleges, and senior colleges and universities should provide supervised employment or simulated workforce experience for all students, as well as career counseling services.
5. Partnerships with employers should be expanded to facilitate the development of the critical competencies, to arrange for actual or simulated employment opportunities for students and faculty, and to determine the critical competencies that could be taught by business representatives. The Business/Education Partnership Program and Resource Center could assist in this endeavor, and individuals at educational institutions could coordinate education/business and industry relationships and staff development in workforce issues and trends.
6. The Department of Education, within its comprehensive educational restructuring effort, should fully implement the following actions, which are already underway and which reflect the systemic changes envisioned by the State Board of Education in its adoption of the document, "Virginia's Vision For A World-Class Education":
a. The Common Core of Learning (to be completed at the end of the tenth grade);
b. Development of the eleventh- and twelfth-grade instructional programs;
c. Further development of Tech Prep programming, in cooperation with the Virginia Community College System, to enable qualified students to begin this comprehensive, multi-level curriculum while in secondary school; and
d. Continuing development of the apprenticeship program, in cooperation with the Department of Labor and Industry, to meet the needs of small businesses as well as to provide new employment opportunities for students.