Jobs will be a large part of the both the education and election conversation over the 12 months. Parents, politicians, and employers will ask campus officials about how well higher education prepares Americans for a changing labor market. Politicians will be asked, continually, how they plan to create jobs in the United States.
Suggestion: bypass the rhetoric on all sides and get thee to the web to read a long and informative article in the Sunday NY Times titled “How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work.” The text and accompanying graphics provide a clear and compelling statement about the challenges of manufacturing consumer electronics in the United States.
Once upon a time (and not all that long ago), Apple used to manufacture its products in the United States. So this is more than just another story about “American jobs going overseas.” The NY Times article discusses competitive advantages that go well beyond just the cost of labor.
Ultimately, the story of future iPhone-type consumer products may be a story about the role of community colleges in training an agile, tech-savvy labor force. In his 2001 book, Management Challenges for the 21st Century, management sage Peter Drucker described the community college as a critical factor in American competitiveness: “The community college was actually designed…to educate technologists who have both the needed theoretical knowledge and the [necessary] manual skill. On this, I am convinced, rests both the still huge productivity advantage of the American economy and the…American ability to create, almost overnight, new and different industries.”
Community colleges are, clearly, the unheralded heroes of the technology revolution. They have always played a critical role in tech training and transfer, as affirmed by their training alliances with auto manufacturers, tech firms, and health care tech providers, plus many local and regional businesses. Consider the arrival of "user-friendly DOS" for the IBM-PC in the early 1980s: community colleges offered tens of thousands of courses and provided computer and other technology training to hundreds of thousands of individuals who need a quick, convenient, cost-effective way to master new technologies, ranging from PC-DOS, Lotus 1-2-3 in the mid-1980s to Office XP, HTML, XML in the 1990s, to networking technologies, IT security, and mobile app development today.
The nation's high tech enclaves will, hopefully, continue to create, “almost overnight, new and different industries.” The employment challenge ahead is to create, train, and train again a domestic labor force that can retain some of the manufacturing for these new industries here in the United States. While MIT and Stanford grads may help create new industries, the CEO’s of these new companies will need students from DeAnza-Foothill, Maricopa, MassBay, and the nation’s 1,000 other community colleges to make and service their products.