Senator Barack Obama missed the mark in his recent speech, that was commented on by Chicago Sun-Times columnist Lynn Sweet in her blog on September 9th, when he said that the way to educate our workforce effectively is to upgrade and revamp our schools. I agree that some revamping may be in order but that will not make the difference that our students need right now.
The senator mentioned that an educated workforce is essential for America to compete and win and that 2/3rds of all new jobs require a higher education or advanced training. As the need for skilled workers rises our pool of qualified people entering the workforce is dwindling due in part to the high dropout rate in many urban cities.
What will make the difference to engage students to stay in school and get the education they need are programs that teach the practical skills needed in the workplace, and make the connection from their classroom work to their future career.
He also said, and here is also where I disagree, that knowledge is the most valuable skill you can sell. Knowledge is wonderful. I love to learn and have information about many subjects: such as science, history, animals, and global warming, to name a few. But knowledge by itself, without the practical skills to implement or adapt the knowledge that we have, is more than a waste of time. We are kidding ourselves that with the knowledge we automatically will make the leap from knowledge to implementation without action. What is more valuable than knowledge is the skills our workforce needs to be creative, adaptable and flexible with the knowledge that they acquire.
The best place for our high school students to learn these skills needed to be successful in the workplace is from an afterschool program called The Entrepreneurial Course for High School Students, taught by a nonprofit organization called EntrepreneursNOW, Inc. (www.entrepreneursnow.org) In nine weeks, starting from nothing, and with the weekly guidance of a facilitator, the students open businesses and sell products at a Business Fair. The students are not told what business, or how to legally earn the money to start the business, and they work in teams that they did not choose. They practice skills designed to enhance their focus and their problem-solving abilities. When they are through the nine weeks they are not the same children. They are truly ready to meet the world with power and a knowing that they can succeed.