In The Atlantic magazine cover story “Making it in America” (January/Feb 2012), author Adam Davidson offers some hopeful and some dire predictions for the American worker. The bottom line? Unless we can better train our workers, a large proportion of the unskilled U.S. workforce may continue to be replaced through automation or off shoring. How can eLearning help address this? Certainly, continuing to invest in a world-class education is crucial, but so is a new paradigm that uses eLearning to help workers continue to develop outside of a traditional classroom.
Like the modern manufacturing plants described in the article, educators need to:
•Redefine workplace readiness, better matching the skills needed in industry;
•Promote a higher degree of knowledge specialization; and
•Adapt new technology to help continually develop our workforce.
And eLearning can be well-suited to meet these goals.
Redefine workforce readiness – Are we creating Level 1s or Level 2s?
Davidson’s article follows the story of two very different workers. Maddie is an extremely hard-working “Level 1” factory worker, and Luke, the more highly skilled “Level 2.” According to the article, the major difference between these two workers is that Maddie, a high school graduate, can train her replacement in less than an hour, while Luke, with more specialized technical training, is earning three times more, and is much less likely to be replaced by automation.
The article surmises that regardless of how hard Maddie works, her job will inevitably be lost– either to factory automation or to an offshore worker, who can complete the job less expensively. As a Level 2, Luke’s job not only earns more, but is much more stable. And the more skilled employees contribute to creating a competitive edge that will keep U.S. industry strong.
So how can we create more Level 2s than Level 1s? Education is obvious. More and more jobs are requiring advanced math and science, as well as technical training. We need to recognize that trade schools and community colleges can be a very valid alternative to a traditional 4-year degree. Also, these institutions can often more quickly reflect the skills needed by industry, developing degree and certification programs that will produce more “Level 2” workers.
But Davidson’s article reflects the sad fact that often Level 1 employees do not have the ability to attend traditional classes. This is where eLearning comes in. By offering more eLearning programs designed for technical training that aspiring Level 2 workers can complete with more flexibly after hours, they can achieve the skills that will make them more valuable to an organization, and stabilize their future.
It may be surprising, but according to Davidson’s article, the U.S. ranks either #1 or #2 in the world in terms of manufacturing. Over the last 20 years, this growth has come from a more highly automated, highly specialized manufacturing approach that generates higher quality and greater efficiency, while requiring fewer unskilled workers.
eLearning needs follow the same approach. We need to adapt and specialize instruction, rather than following the “old school” assembly line approach of “stamping out” generic parts.
Imagine if Maddie could take an assessment that would prescribe the eLearning she needs to complete to qualify for a Level 2 position. The assessment can create a “gap assessment” that specifies a highly tailored learning path, just for Maddie, reflecting exactly what skills she needs, determined by her current strengths and weaknesses. The eLearning can be self-paced, so that Maddie can complete the training around her schedule.
This is the type of learning delivery best suited to eLearning. Learners are encouraged to continually develop highly specialized skills, and industry can provide an efficient way to meet the needs of an ever changing world.
Adapt new technology to help continually develop our workforce
Gone are the days when a worker can achieve a degree or certification, start a career and be set for life. Continuing education is critical, and eLearning itself has evolved to help workers continually develop to stay marketable.
With the growth of mobile learning, Maddie can now take practice exams using her tablet or smart phone. Learning apps can provide remedial loops, so she can continually assess her progress, take content automatically adapted, based on her performance, and allow her to continually apply and practice the concepts she needs to know to advance to Level 2.
The fate of tomorrow’s worker?
Davidson’s article does deliver a dire prediction. Despite how hard-working Maddie is, as a Level 1 worker, she is doomed to eventual obsolescence, either through technology or from cheaper unskilled workers a continent away. But if we, as educators, can design and deliver eLearning that helps employees like Maddie use their work ethic to develop the essential skills on her own, there is hope for the future.
Want to know more about filling the skills gap and offering member continuing education, check out our resources page.
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