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Work-based learning: practical path to independence

April 1st, 2014

What defines education? Is it registration? Is it tuition? Is it school buildings? No, formal education is defined by three things; 1) structure, 2) sequence, and 3) assessment. Remove any one of those and it is just life, not education. Distance learning has proven that anyone can learn anything from anyone at any time. This is why distance education works, and learning happens every day in the workplace. In fact, 80 percent to 90 percent of all work-related learning occurs in the workplace. We also know that learning by doing is a proven strategy. Project-based learning is increasingly being implemented nationwide. The president’s recent State of the Union speech emphasized work-based learning and specifically apprenticeships. Employers benefit by recognizing their role in producing skill and not merely consuming skill.

Employers frequently emphasize the need for soft skills and “trainability.” However, cognitive ability has long been viewed as the most important element in hiring decisions. Now we find cognitive ability is being balanced with a focus on personality characteristics. Can the person do a good job, is now shifting to will the person do a good job? Are these soft skills taught in the classroom? Are classes like “showing up on time” what are needed? Was being on time never taught? Or, is showing up on time a characteristic that must be measured prior to hiring? Does extending adolescence and reducing students’ contact with working adults help develop these critical employability skills? I think not. Schools-to-work activities such as internships, cooperative education and apprenticeships are critical, but too little used in our classroom-focused learning system.

The $50 billion corporate training enterprise focuses to a large extent on soft skill training. There is some evidence that such training has an impact. Will we see more of this kind of training in schools? The belief that cognitive ability (often measured as the capacity to remember) is the most important skill in the workplace has driven the singular focus on academic assessment. This focus on academic knowledge has led to the Common Core. However, workplace analysis continues to point to the ability to locate information being more important than the ability to remember. This is part of the impact of the Internet on the workplace.
Does restricting school-age youth access to working adults better prepare the future workforce? I believe that education has abandoned many proven work-based learning methods to increasingly constrain students to the classroom. This classroom-centric approach undermines the school-to-work transition — a transition that, if done poorly, undermines opportunity for youth.
Politicians and educational administrators love to talk about the need to educate our citizens, and make statements about the mismatch theory that people are not trained for the jobs that are available. Hogwash. What does the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics say about the rest of this decade? Thirty percent of the projected job openings will require less than a high school diploma and 40 percent, only a high school diploma. Less than 20 percent will require a bachelor’s degree or more. Almost three-quarters will require no more than brief on-the-job training, and 85 percent will require no previous relevant job experience.
It may be an inconvenient and counterintuitive truth that technology does create new jobs, but doesn’t increase the skills needed in most jobs. In fact, technology reduces skill needs among the bulk of existing jobs. Remember when bank teller training programs or grocery cashier training programs were full? Remember when computers required programing by the user in order to be used?
Prediction remains difficult, but what we do know is that the key to getting a job is proximity to work and not pre-employment training. Students isolated in a classroom lack social contacts to secure a job, and 80 percent to 90 percent of the skills needed to succeed in the workplace are developed in the workplace. Youth unemployment can be reduced, and critical skill building opportunities will be created if we will simply expand apprenticeship and work-based learning opportunities.
If we create skills rather than consume skills, the future of American business will be strengthened, and the perceived skill shortage will be resolved.

Robert Ketchum

Previously published in the North Idaho Business Journal

 

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The Real Minimum Wage is $0

March 1st, 2014

The real minimum wage for the unskilled will always remain $0. Discussions of wages necessarily lead to discussions of the global marketplace. Skills and wages are inseparable, and the labor market pays for high value skills, not simply hard labor. However, the labor market has become worldwide. Unions historically make wage demands, but now such demands often drive work to new regions or nations. Companies must add great value, and win against global competitors, to support high wages.

ACT (the college testing company) has built an extensive job analysis database that clearly demonstrates the link between high skills and high wages. This fact is a motivator for a college education. Unfortunately, college is becoming more unaffordable for middle and lower income families. Efforts to reengineer higher education continue, but substantive change is slow. This situation is compounded with many companies seeking to avoid training costs and looking instead to government to train their employees. These workforce supply factors combine with rapidly retiring experienced “baby boomer” employees, threatening to slow America’s economic engine due to lack of skills. High skills or low wages is the choice we continue to face.

The minimum wage is intended to protect the unskilled, and entry level. Supply and demand rewards the highly skilled. Companies want people who are motivated to learn, the workplace that most skills are developed. We must avoid the Wizard of OZ trap where the lack of a diploma implies no brain. As the Wizard told the Scarecrow: “But they have one thing you haven’t got: A diploma.” Using diploma’s to drive hiring decisions is a waste of talent. Hire for personality and train for skill is a proven formula. Skill development in the workplace raises wages, while the minimum wage will remain $0 for under skilled unable to find work.

Can employers develop and manage their skill needs? Yes, through apprenticeship and structured on-the-job training. In fact, cognitive apprenticeship, when implemented through structured on-the-job training can be used to effectively develop even the most complex technical or management skills. All that is required is an employer prepared to do so. This may seem out of step with an era where academic credentials are seen as necessary to become a productive citizen, but the evidence for work-based learning and cognitive apprenticeship is clear. How is this done? It begins with an analysis of the job so that the knowledge, skills and abilities need for success are clearly understood. Tacit processes must be brought into the open so they can be taught and learned error-free. Business awarded certificates and business-driven skill certifications can be used to address the OZ Scarecrow’s diploma problem.

Wages can rise in companies that add value to products and services by developing employees that not only possess the skills needed to perform the job well, but also have the motivation to do so. Employer commitment to training and development yields workers who are engaged and bring their creativity and motivation to the workplace. There is no substitute for developing and managing the skills; knowledge, and abilities of your team.

Robert Ketchum

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Economic Development and the Business of Learning

December 10th, 2013

Knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA’s) are the DNA of every business. This DNA is managed through investments in training and development. Training is defined as learning that produces a direct return on investment. Development is defined as new learning that is not directly measurable for the company (such as paying for college classes unrelated to an employees job.) We know that a good general education make for a trainable worker. As for jobs requiring a four-year degree, the percentage of jobs requiring a baccalaureate degree has been almost unchanged for fifty years, that being 25 to 30 percent.

For several years, we have seen an often repeated prediction from a university in Washington D.C. that claims that in just a few more years, most jobs will require a college credential. This claim runs afoul of reality. How many jobs do you see advertising a two-year degree, or one-year certificate? In fact, the rapid expansion of technology has “dumbed down” many skilled jobs. The point is, if education alone drove economic development, college towns across the country would be the hubs of the nation’s economy! Companies do, however, seek trainable workers. I’ve discussed in a previous column my view on the often cited “skills gap.” A large local employer once told me that training employees would cause workers to leave for other jobs. A humorous reply could have been, “if you don’t train them they may stay!” Increasingly, without an employer’s commitment to training, skilled workers will be very hard to find. Since 2008 the number of apprentices has dropped by 40% while youth unemployment rises. The decline of business commitment to apprenticeship and training threatens the economic recovery.

Most states offer training money to companies seeking to relocate or expand in their state. These funds can be used to offset the cost of new employee training. This training money can be used for just-in-time training for newly hired workers. In addition, school-based training providers often seek grants or other public funding to create new training programs that sometimes promote a “train them and they will come” approach to economic development. The “train them and they will come” strategy is a disservice for students who take the bait for training programs that anticipate the existence of future jobs for graduates only to prove once again the difficulty of prediction. Training should be delivered just in time when the jobs and workers are ready. Otherwise, supply and demand are out of balance.

The Internet also continues to develop as an electronic performance support system making the ability to locate information much more important that remembering information and work processes. The federal government spent heavily during the 1970’s running pre-employment training programs for jobs that did not exist. Those federal programs were proven ineffective. Washington State just eliminated funding for a range of pre-employment training programs that could not provide any data to prove their effectiveness. Training in advance of proven need has been discredited. Public spending on general pre-employment skills training programs has been flat or declining.

While some US companies fret about the perceived skills gap, several German companies such as BMW and Siemens, have expanded production on the US. How are these German companies finding workers? Apprenticeship is their solution. Apprenticeship (work-based learning) has followed these companies across the Atlantic.

Recent articles in the New York Time and the Washington Post detail how these German companies are addressing their need for skilled employees. The approach taken by these companies is work-based learning. An apprenticeship model can be launched immediately, and will produce outcomes equal to or better than pre-employment training programs. On-the-job training strategies quickly produced a workforce that won World War II. Schools often resist work-based learning as faculty want to develop curriculum. There is no conflict, as good occupational curriculum must be developed from analysis of knowledge, skills and abilities used in companies every day.

Economic development builds on the capacity of entrepreneurs. In Napoleon Hill’s book “Think and Grow Rich,” the point is made that educated people are the cheapest asset an entrepreneur will ever buy. Nonetheless, investment in training and development is critical to managing the knowledge, skill and abilities that support successful companies. Economic development needs to support the business of learning.

Robert G. Ketchum, Ph.D.

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Career advising in a global economy

November 10th, 2013

Published in the North Idaho Business Journal October 29, 2013

A few years ago, the Coeur d’Alene Idaho Chamber of Commerce offered its first business-oriented trips to China. This first wave of trips was so popular that three Chamber travel groups sold out back to back. This success was reflective not only of individual travel interest, but also desire for business opportunity by Chamber members. What can we do to create opportunity for the next generation of business and professional leaders?

Only 30 percent of Americans have passports. By contrast, U.K. passport holders are at 75 percent and Canada at 60 percent. Some might argue that there is no reason to leave the USA. I suggest that failure to experience international travel will be damaging to the next generation of America’s professionals and entrepreneurs. Preparing for the global economy, parents and teachers are wise to help young people look beyond local, regional, and even national opportunities. A student may be seeking career pathways, or a young entrepreneur may be searching for foreign markets. In either case, all students benefit from expanding international competence and experience.

Traditionally, Americans have felt self-sufficient with minimal need for such travel. Parents are faced with much demand on resources, but yet providing exposure for students to international experiences can open eyes and opportunities. I’ve advised local students regarding opportunity to teach English in Asia as an activity between high school and university. My experiences with North Idaho College’s customized training project in China persuaded me to send my son to study Mandarin in China between high school and college. We all know of China’s growth. The McKinsey’s report, “Preparing for China’s Urban Billion,” projects that by 2025, China will build more than five million buildings, including 50,000 skyscrapers — equal to 10 New York Cities. That is a lot of people, and just one example. These kinds of travel experiences are very impactful, and support expanded opportunity for students.
A few regional teachers volunteer their time and offer student travel tours with organizations such as Smithsonian’s EF Tours. Teachers do this in order to provide travel opportunity for local students. Career experts point to the ever-increasing number of jobs that most young people will have in their working life. International opportunity can open doors to personal and business relationships that can be rewarding financially as well as socially. As it is in education, there is no substitute for first-hand experience. Project-based learning is superior to abstract learning, and structured on-the-job training is superior to simulation. In the same way, while we have Skype and other social media to aide in international experience, there is no substitute for international travel.

To understand and to sell to other countries, we must experience other countries. International travel has a lasting impact on the world-view of young people. International education can provide a powerful influence as to how we interact with people from different economies and cultures. These experiences will deepen commercial relationships in a global market. Traditionally, student travel has always offered benefits to students:
• Increased confidence
• Improved school performance
• Stronger university and job applications
• Improved professional and business opportunities
When advising young people, students are most concerned about employment and economic well-being. The travel benefit accruing to students for career and business opportunity could be critical in an era where we seek to grow our economy and expand international markets for products and services.

by Robert Ketchum

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Resolving the “skills gap”

November 9th, 2013

Media stories about America’s “skills gap” have been frequent, and have generally focused on workers. Are workers to blame? Or do we have a failure to train? Assigning blame does not provide a solution to the problem. A Bloomberg editorial (May 17, 2012) discussed technology driven employment change, and the consequent decline in middle class wages. Recommendations for improvement included the college completion agenda, and even more importantly, the need to prepare trainable workers. Specifically, the worker of the future needs to be trained to be trainable.

College completion is critical for those choosing post-secondary education since time spent collecting college credits without completion of a degree is known to waste financial and human resources. That is why college completion is a big issue at all levels of government.

We all know how a college degree can open the door to a good job, but even if the degree helps land the job, the new employee has almost everything to learn. Being trainable only adds value when employers are willing and able to train new workers effectively. In this economy, employers often profess an unwillingness to train in hope someone else will train their employees, whether government or another employer. In other words, some employers intend to hire only experienced workers! We need trainable workers who can adapt to a changing economy, but are often faced with employers who will not bear the cost of employee training. As a result, employers often complain that despite high unemployment, and availability of educated job applicants, they cannot find anyone who knows the jobs they have available. Are we to believe these people are all un-trainable? Of course not! Many of these applicants have bachelors’ degrees, or other levels of post-secondary education. The problem is that employers are often unwilling or unable to provide needed training. A famous quotation from the Training Within Industry Service says it all: “If the trainee hasn’t learned, the trainer hasn’t trained.”

A Wall Street Journal article from October 2102 titled “Why Companies Aren’t Getting the Employees They Need” made an important point; business should stop complaining about the failure of government-funded education to provide America’s skilled workforce. Why are companies convinced that government will or should solve their training needs?
Expecting easy solutions to skill shortages is based on many years of job applications from mobile baby-boomers who already possessed extensive on-the-job training experience. Large cadres of experienced Baby Boomers solved employer training problems by responding to “help wanted” advertisements. American business is faced with the reality that the days of plentiful skilled baby boomers are quickly ending. It is the companies themselves that must now take on the task of employee training.

Foundational skills, including applied math and applied reading, are among the common core of the educational system. But while educational programs can provide those skills, they cannot front-load the 90 percent of job specific skills that make companies competitive and profitable. On-the-job learning (with or without a formal apprenticeship) is where true job skill learning takes place. Many companies have replaced classroom-based employee training with computer-based training. But this solution alone has proved inadequate in replacing on-the-job training (OJT). This gap between training and work is where structured on-the-job training (SOJT) fits.

The term SOJT was coined by Professor Ron Jacobs, OSU, 1995, who defined it as, “A planned process of developing competence on units of work by having an experienced employee train a novice employee at the work setting or a location that closely resembles the work setting.”
I suggest that employers should take responsibility to develop and manage their own knowledge and skills. Training, or its 21st century replacement, Web-based training, must be followed with SOJT if real learning is to be validated and effective.
We read reports describing a mismatch between workforce skills and the economy’s available jobs. A common recommendation is “more funding for community colleges and technical institutes.” I applaud efforts to increase funding for post-secondary education, but given current constraints in state funding, alternatives must be identified. With the price of post-secondary education rising, and the reality of the costs associated with classroom learning limiting access for many in the workforce, we must ask what other solutions exist.
The Urban Institute and Dr. Robert Lerman have been advocating expansion of the often overlooked but widely proven approach to workforce development, the apprenticeship method. Apprenticeship has been proven effective at a lower cost and with effectiveness equivalent to school-based training. The time might be right to embrace apprenticeship once again. According to Lerman writing in his article What to Do about the New Unemployment, “evidence shows that gains from apprenticeship far exceed even the gains for technical training in community colleges.” Apprenticeship and work-based learning can be enhanced with the addition of structured on-the-job training; SOJT produces important learning gains well beyond typical unstructured OJT.

America is on a paper chase. Many employers, lacking any methodology to assess applicant skills, ask for a degree as a default screening method. While more people than ever before hold degrees and certificates, a college credential is not an assurance of capability to do the job. All this is occurring while we tell young people there is no way to win without college, and we watch while students accrue student debt loads that handcuff their future. The US Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) recently posted guidance that employers requiring a high school diploma as an employee screening tool may be violating the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA.) This guidance letter explains that jobs must now be defined based on necessary worker skills rather than the results of a diploma. This determination could have long-range impact in the use of diplomas as blanket screening tools.

Eighty-five to ninety percent of job knowledge is learned on the job; however, policy leaders and businesses themselves have adopted the message that taxpayers must train workers. America developed all the skills needed to ramp up industry to win WWII in a very short time by conducting needed training within industry and on-the-job using the Training Within Industry Service (TWI.) SOJT builds on the TWI approach. Business has access to the tools (SOJT and Registered Apprenticeship) needed to meet their workforce skill needs. When these tools are used, we will begin to resolve the “skills gap.”

By ROBERT G. KETCHUM, Ph.D.

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Trainable? “If the trainee hasn’t learned, the trainer hasn’t trained.”

May 20th, 2012

A Bloomberg editorial (May 17) focused on technology driven employment change, and the decline of middle class wages. The writer’s recommendations to correct the problem included “college completion,” and even more importantly, the need to prepare “trainable” workers. Specifically, the quote at the end of the editorial is:

“…matching people to jobs will need to be done more quickly and with greater flexibility. Education in the U.S. and other advanced economies faces a new and far-reaching challenge. The worker of the future needs to be trained to be trainable.” Bloomberg

College completion is critical for those choosing college since time spent collecting college credits without completion of a degree has been shown to be a colossal waste of financial and human resources. Of greatest interest is the trainable recommendation. This is one of the reasons I see great value in the adoption of the National Career Readiness Certificate. 

The central point in my mind is how does trainable add value when so few employers are willing and able to train new workers effectively? I talk to employers who still hope someone else will train their employees, either government or some other employer!

So Bloomberg points out a major conundrum. We need trainable workers who can adapt to a changing economy, but we are faced with employers who do not want to bother training employees. This is why we see article after article where employers complain that despite high unemployment, they cannot find anyone who knows the jobs that are available. Are we to believe these people are all untrainable? Nonsense! Many have bachelors degrees. The problem is that employers are unwilling or unable to provide needed training. This is a discussion that should have national attention. “If the trainee hasn’t learned, the trainer hasn’t trained.”

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Skills Needed, Skills Defined

January 10th, 2012

The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) recently posted guidance that employers requiring a high school diploma, used as a employee screening tool, may be violating the American’s With Disabilities Act (ADA.) This guidance explains that the job must now be defined based on necessary worker skills and detailed as to how the high school diploma matches the job skill criteria. This determination could have long-range impact in the use of diplomas as blanket screening tools.  Unlike industry-based certification, diplomas and degrees from schools seldom define demonstrated and assessed skills. This EEOC guidance could speed the adoption of skill-based, industry driven, skill certification. Currently, the US Department of Labor lists over 4,400 industry-based certifications on the Certification Finder at the CareerOneStop.com website. These certifications will rise in importance to employers while education-based credentials may fade. Effective skill development on the job requires a structured approach based on the defined skills used in the workplace. In such a structured OJT workplace, meeting this EEOC guidance will be readily accomplished, and new employees quickly trained in the need skills.

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Finding Skilled Employees–Who Is Responsible?

October 26th, 2011

The Wall Street Journal article of October 24 titled “Why Companies Aren’t Getting the Employees They Need” made the important point that business should stop whining about the failure of government funded education to provide America’s skilled workforce. What other government programs have proven to be successful? Why do companies believe government will solve their training needs?

Expecting miraculous solutions to skill shortages is a folly born of the experience for 30+ years of mobile baby-boomers who (with extensive on-the-job training available to be hired) solving company training problems by simply responding to a “help wanted” advertisement. The days of plentiful skilled baby boomers are quickly ending.

The foundational skills of applied math and applied reading are often the limits of the educational system’s reach. Educational programs cannot front-load the 90% of job specific skills that make companies competitive and profitable. On-the-job learning (with or without a formal apprenticeship) is where real learning takes place. Many companies have replaced classroom employee training with computer-based training. This solution hasn’t replaced on-the-job training (OJT). This gap between training and work is where Structured OJT fits. Companies are now compelled to take responsibility to develop  and manage their own knowledge and skill environment. Training, or it’s 21st century replacement, web-based learning, must be followed with Structured OJT if real learning is to be timely and effective. This is the only way to address the problem of “getting the employees they need” as highlighted in the Wall Street Journal.

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Apprenticeship and SOJT: The Undiscovered Solution

July 28th, 2011

News stories often appear discussing the mismatch between workforce skills and the economy’s available jobs. The common recommendation is “more taxes to community colleges and technical institutes.” The likelihood of that approach occurring is low given limited state funding. And, with the costs of post-secondary education rising rapidly, and the ability to benefit from classroom learning as a constraint for many, what other solutions exist?

The Urban Institute and Dr. Robert Lerman have been advocating for expansion of the overlooked Apprenticeship approach to workforce development. Proven effective at a lower cost and with higher effectiveness than community colleges, the time is right. Quoting Dr. Lerman from “What to Do about the New Unemployment”–“the evidence shows that gains from apprenticeship far exceed even the gains for technical training in community colleges.”

The effectiveness of apprenticeship is multiplied with the addition of Structured On-The-Job Training. Here is a case study that describes how the addition of SOJT to what is commonly only unstructured OJT in an apprenticeship program produces important learning gains as described in this article. So this effective combination is the undiscovered solution. Don’t expect higher education and their apologists for institutionalized learning to recommend this alternative.

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Skills vs. Diplomas: The Race for a Piece of “Papah”

July 8th, 2011

During the time I was engaged in training sales and delivery in China, I was impressed as to how important a diploma or certificate was to everyone we met. At the end of a training event; a large and necessarily ornate (usually red and gold) certificate was required. These diplomas and certificates were all important. It was clear that the piece of “papah” was more important than the skills to be trained. This was obvious as we often taught basic management skills to college educated managers.

America is emulating the Chinese in our frenzied paper chase. When talking to college students, you’ll hear again and again–I just need the diploma! Many employers, lacking any method to assess skills, ask for a degree as a default screening method. Degrees and certificates have proliferated to the point where a college credential is no assurance of capability to learn to do the job. All this is occurring while we tell young people there is no way to win without college. Our culture encourages students to accrue student debt load on par with the mortgage crisis. Unfortunately, many students find themselves “underwater” after graduation owing more than the degree is worth in the marketplace.

The “pay for paper rather than skills” problem can be resolved when companies and organizations have analyzed the jobs and tasks that comprise the process used throughout the company or organization. The foundational skills needed on a job can be known (using the WorkKeys system) making it possible to hire truly trainable applicants.

New hire training, and cross training, can then be readily accomplished through the application of Structured OJT. Paying for skills, rather than a piece of paper, would improve our companies and improve our schools. We could save young people, and taxpayers, a lot of money.

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