Unfortunately many U.S. workers are educationally ill-prepared for this new world of work. In the early 1990s the U.S. Department of Education conducted its first national survey on adult reading, writing, and math skills (called the National Audit of International Literacy Standards). Its devastating results indicated that 90 million Americans lacked the necessary basic educational skills to maximize productivity at their current jobs or to be easily retrained for new, more high-tech employment. The U.S. Commerce Department also issued a report (1992) indicating that these educational skill deficits reduced workplace productivity by at least $300 billion each year. Unless this undereducated workforce is retrained, it may mean that many Americans will become the new peasants of the information age. Low skill, low wage jobs may be their only future.
Until recently such companies as IBM, AT&T, Sears, Xerox, and United Airlines implicitly guaranteed their workers a job for life. In exchange, people gave a company their complete loyalty, often placing it ahead of family or personal needs.
Worldwide economic, competitive, technological, political, and social changes have introduced a new era in which to survive and prosper; thus all businesses must become small, lean, and highly focused. Bureaucracy is being eliminated and middle management is shrinking.
Many business planners now see 250 to 500 people as the optimal work unit. Beyond that size people lose interest in the important touchstone-the customer, who has become the only source of business security. Customer loyalty must be constantly earned through outstanding performance. Business interest in total quality management (TQM) is a quest for a workable strategy that requires consistently better performance from every employee.
The business process re engineering movement of the 1990s is reshaping American business, often through the elimination of many middle managers. But the success of this strategy will largely depend on how well newly empowered supervisors and line workers are educated to maximize their individual talents. Strategic manpower planning requires training programs that are designed to foster workers' abilities to perform complex jobs through the development of abstract thinking, problem-solving, and comprehension skills (cognitive abilities).
Future managers, supervisors, and workers must learn how to rethink new solutions to the old ways of doing business. These total quality management, ISO 9000 (International Organization for Standardization), business process re engineering, team-building programs feature problem-solving, creative-ability, and cognitive-based learning. They are far more complex than past behavioral-based company training, and they will challenge both manager and worker alike to develop leadership for a tomorrow that maintains organizational competitiveness.
The organizational structure of the workforce for the year 2000 will most typically be smaller companies utilizing work teams. An employee will be viewed as a human resource who needs constant development. Individual employment will be very changeable and intermittent, driven by rapidly changing technology and the need for extensive continuing education. The training and development offered will be committed to lifelong learning that copes with these frequent changes. Employee motivation will become vested in these job changes and in enrichment that broadens daily work assignments.
THE FUTURE OF EDUCATION AT WORK
Societal changes in the next decades will be enormous. What are the occupational outlook and the new roles of trainers in the workplace? The entire world is now in the midst of a second industrial/technology revolution. Over the next thirty years, major scientific breakthroughs will significantly alter technology, the workplace, and daily life. International economic competitiveness will demand that America create and maintain a world-class, universal-worker educational system. If both employees and organizations are to thrive, training and development must become a force in strategic planning that educates all people to their highest potential. However, too often in contemporary business, "wisdom" and "creativity" are seen as opposites. Many managers view creative people as mavericks who do not quite fit into the corporate culture. They certainly are not the people who should be running the shop!
Yet many of these same managers have embraced quality as the competitive cure-all of the 1990s. A comparison of Crosby's fourteen steps, Deming's fourteen points, and Juran's seven points- all three of whom are experts in quality programs-finds a common call to expand training that promotes employee problem solving on the job. All three call for empowered work teams that can integrate a range of complex thinking tasks into their daily work activities. This quality "continuous improvement process" requires that people make decisions, analyze systems, investigate options, invent new processes, and classify, compare, and generally manipulate information. Increasing personal creativity has become the name of the game for American business.
The foundation of America's national wealth is really its human capital-people. Their knowledge, skills, and motivation remain the primary assets of any business. In 1987 William Wiggenhorn, noted, "We have documented the savings for the statistical process control methods and problem solving methods we have trained our people in. We are running a rate of return of about thirty times the dollar invested."
To offer this impressive rate of return for more companies, we must prepare more professional trainers for a dramatic increase in the technical retraining needed on an ongoing basis by every business sector. American business must seriously consider offering career education/school-to-work programs through local schools. These training programs will prepare the next generation of young people for the high-tech realities of the twenty-first century workplace.
Most of the modern consumer goods used by every American- the automobile, television, videocassette recorder, compact disc player, tape deck, and so on-were invented in the United States.