The workplace is changing so drastically that schools should expand the three R's to include teamwork, leadership, communication and a range of other skills prized by the global economy, or millions of young people face a dismal future, a U.S. Department of Labor commission report says.
"Today's workplace puts a premium on reasoning skills and an ability and willingness to learn," Secretary of Labor Lynn Martin said yesterday. "We need to respond to workplace changes, not be whipsawed by them."
More than half of Americans enter the working world without such abilities and will pay "a very high price" in their careers, according to the report released in Washington by the secretary of labor's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills.
While various studies have pointed to failings in American education, the new report zeroes in on a less explored area -- how technology and global economic pressure are revolutionizing what people need to know at work.
In contrast to previous critiques of education, the panel -- composed of union, business and academic representatives -- sought to identify the sorts of non-traditional skills that are demanded increasingly by the global economy.
"Both schools and business have to do a better job" of preparing young people for work, said William E. Brock, the commission's chairman and former U.S. secretary of labor. "We are failing our children and short-changing their future and ours."
The findings, which the Department of Labor will push for in the coming months, suggest a fundamental overhaul in the skills young people are taught, with broad implications for classroom and company training efforts.
Increasingly, workers must be competent in five areas that transcend the traditional basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, according to the commission:
allocating time, money and other resources; working with colleagues in teams and other settings; using and evaluating information; understanding systems, such as how their jobs fit into a company's broader scheme; and applying a range of modern technologies.
Nonetheless, the long-term impact of the proposals was not clear. For all the concern about the competitiveness of America's workforce, education policy is outside the traditional domain of the Department of Labor, and the proposals challenging long-held approaches to teaching.