Thoughts on “Young, gifted and slack,” by Dominic Barton, of McKinsey & Company, published in The Economist, The World in 2013 issue.
As Mr. Barton points out, there will be an “85m global shortfall of high- and middle-skill workers” at a time when young people in some countries are rioting due to lack of opportunity. A simultaneous glut and shortage.
LokiNomics, among other endeavors, has managed information technology teams, and always found a shortage of skilled team members. We have rarely hired a citizen of the United States, mostly H1-B from India, but also Russia, Ukraine, China, Pakistan. We generally attribute this to the United States’ educational system and cultural decay, and would like to explore Mr. Barton’s observations a bit further.
He notes that “nearly 70% of employers blamed inadequate training for the shortfall,” but “70% of education providers believe” they imparted the skills for the market. Note that while employers may place blame, they may also be incorrect. Current filter-based recruiting mechanisms may play a role (we have direct and hilarious experience with this), or hiring bias, or any number of selection issues, intentional or not.
The educators may also be incorrect. They may have incorrectly assessed market needs, or simply failed to deliver. We do not know, although our experience indicates the latter.
Perhaps it bothers no one else that the U.S. absolutely must import skilled workers. Our discomfort does not stem from xenophobia but two other concerns. First, there is gross inefficiency involved. Having dealt with visa issues for decades, and the difficulties of international travel costs and dialects, local labor is clearly preferable, all other considerations being equal. Second, why should we not have workers available in this country? Why does it say about the U.S. that intelligent workers must be imported, especially at a time of high unemployment?
LokiNomics spent a day in Sacramento earlier this year, meeting with state senators and assembly members to discuss education-related budget matters and various bills coming up for votes. Most notable for education was a discussion with assemblyman Jose Solorio (D-CA) to express our opposition to cuts in science education. A key point LokiNomics presented was our direct experience with the lack of Computer Science graduates from the U.S., and how reducing sciences funding was a step in the wrong direction. After calling us racist (he was apparently unaware that U.S. citizens come in all races), he then proceeded to say that the local university would be happy to fill all our needs. He was unaware that the state universities make up their budget shortfalls through foreign tuitions. In fact, American enrollment in graduate programs dropped 2.3 percent last year, while foreign enrollment climbed 7.8 percent (story here). If there is an improvement, it will not come from this legislator, especially as he was defeated in November.
At The World in 2013 Festival this past weekend, Lynn Forester de Rothschild talked about useful skills that could be taught, and how probabilities could be more useful at work than certain other kinds of math. In our day job, we find reasoning skills even more valuable than probability in prospective employees, and more rare. Reasoning is difficult to teach in an institutional setting, however, and especially at the younger ages. It borders on philosophy and values, which in turn borders on religion. Reasoning is best taught at home, but we have a chicken-and-egg problem there, as one cannot give what one has not got. Reasoning is not a popular practice in the U.S., but we would like to recommend it.
Mr. Barton’s suggestion of a practicum is fine, but executives tend to seek simplistic solutions, and this one can impart technical skills, but not reasoning. We believe the great question of the times is how to reenergize the thinking of a generation, to desire to be great in reasoning, in prudence, in foresight, but also in mercy, magnanimity, and respect for all people. If we do not raise the ability to reason effectively, we perish.
the need for logic
Maria’s class and lack of logic.