Dear President-Elect Trump,
People are counting on you because you told them that you can restore their jobs and their incomes, and, most important, their pride and self-respect.
The most important reason that the people in your base are in trouble is because they don’t have the education and skills they need either to get decent jobs or command the respect of the people around them. It used to be possible for people with only a high school education and even those who had not completed high school to get jobs—in a mine or on a factory floor—that paid well enough to get a home in the suburbs, a little place in the country, a nice-looking boat on a trailer and a college education for their kids.
But that has not been true for decades.
It is reasonable to ask how the skills of the American worker compare to the skills of their competitors in other high wage countries. The answer is sobering. A recent reanalysis by ETS of an earlier OECD survey of the skills of workers all over the industrialized world showed that American workers are the least-well educated of the workers in all the countries surveyed. We used to have the best-educated workforce in the world. Now our workers’ skills tie for last.
So, the challenge you and your team faces is very straightforward. Intelligent machinery is gobbling up the low-skill, routine work that machines can do more quickly, more accurately and cheaper than human beings can do it. If you want your base to be with you four years from now, you will have to find a way to give the people in your base the skills they will need to complement the skills of the intelligent machines that are flooding into our workplaces. To do that, you will have to reskill and upskill the people already in the workforce on a vast scale and you will have to greatly improve the skills of the young people graduating from our high schools. The average high school graduate today has a very hard time reading a community college textbook written at a 12th grade level of literacy and has a no less hard time doing middle school mathematics . That same typical high school graduate leaves high school with two to three years less education than the typical Northern European high school graduate. They are even further behind the typical high school graduate in Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and Shanghai.
The United States needs a massive effort to upgrade the skills of the people already in our workforce if it is to compete with workforces elsewhere in the world. That should go somewhere near the top of your list if you want to keep your base on your side, because that is the only way they will be able to make more money and hold their heads up high.
You should know that the federal job training budget is only one fifth of what it was in the Carter administration. If you want to make a strategic investment in the mid-skill American workforce–your base–then that is the one to make. But the whole thing needs to be reorganized and modernized to be effective. You need a massive program and that program should build on the successful strategies that the nations with the best-educated and best-trained workforces have been using. What you need to do to succeed four years from now is figure out what the top performers have been doing and then do it here, even better.
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