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Life Is Peachy

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Graduate Student Term Paper



March 10, 2002

Robert Kerr

Robert Kerr

Copyright© 2002 by CETE, The Ohio State University



Adult Learning For U.S. Competitive Advantage

It now seems axiomatic that the world is continuing to rapidly change and that the U.S.

economy is being called upon regularly to transform itself, in increasingly short time frames, to adapt

to the shifting competitive landscape. Work related learning has been identified as a key enabler of

effective economic advantage for countries like to U.S. to remain competitive. Marshall and Tucker

state that, "The future now belongs to societies that organize themselves for learning."(Marshall &

Trucker 1992 p. xiii).

High Skill, High Performance, and High-Tech U.S. Workforce

While all learning may be important to some degree to help a society remain competitive, it is

"high-skill" learning that many countries are now striving toward to increase their overall societal

wage levels. Krogh and Roos (1996) have written that, " we move from the industrial age to the

information age, knowledge is becoming increasingly critical for the competitive success of firms and

the key to success in today's business is the application and development of specialized knowledge and

competencies". The knowledge and skills required in the U.S. workforce has evolved over the last

century. In reviewing labor's knowledge and skill migration within the U.S. workforce toward this

more significant high-skill labor force Greenspan (2000) stated, "In 1900, only one out of every ten

workers was in a professional, technical, or managerial occupation. By 1970, that proportion had

doubled, and today those types of jobs account for nearly one-third of our workforce." One can only

assume that this increasing demand for more skilled labor will continue to grow in the coming years.

How is this high-skill labor being leveraged in the new economy? High-skill labor is a

necessary component to support achieving a "high-performance" workplace. In the U.S. the

importance of attaining the skills needed to support a high performance work environment was

underscored when in 1990, the U.S. Secretary of Labor appointed a commission to determine what

skills our U.S. youth would need to be successful in the future world of work. The result was the

Robert Kerr

Copyright© 2002 by CETE, The Ohio State University


Department of Labor's (DOL) Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS)

Report that confirmed the need for the U.S. to move towards a more high performance work

environment to remain globally competitive. The high performance work setting is characterized by; a

commitment to excellence; high product quality; and high levels of customer satisfaction. To achieve it

means combining technology and people together in new ways pursues these goals. This commission's

fundamental purpose became to encourage a high-performance U.S. economy characterized by highskill,

high-wage employment (DOL, 2000).

Technology plays an important role in this new high-skill/high-performance competitive

workforce learning landscape. The SCANS Report (DOL 2000 p.4) states, "Above all these goals

[achieving a high performance work setting] depend on ... responsible employees comfortable with

technology and complex systems..." Clearly, our society is increasingly reliant on more advanced

technology workforce capabilities. Gray and Herr (1998, p.85) write, "Most labor market experts agree

that the most promising segment of the future workforce comprises technical workers."


Information Technology Workforce

An important subgroup of technical workers is our "information technology" (IT) workforce.

For the purposes of this paper, information technology workers will be defined with the U.S.

Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook category for "Computer Systems Analysts,

Engineers, and Scientists." These workers--computer systems analysts, engineers, and scientists--

include a wide range of computer-related occupations." (DOL, 2000-01). Computer technology is a

continuously changing field and IT workers must continue to pursue lifelong professional education

and training opportunities in order to stay current in their jobs. "Technological advances come so

rapidly in the computer field that continuous study is necessary to keep skills up to date. These new

jobs also will require workers with extensive educational backgrounds. The rapid spread of computers

Robert Kerr




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