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December 2016/January 2017 | Volume 74 | Number 4
The Global-Ready Student
The new world of work demands young people with high-level skills who are globally aware. Here's why and how schools should respond.
When I was growing up, U.S. firms mostly sold their products and services to U.S. consumers and U.S. workers competed with people in the same metro area or region of the state. But in the 1970s, falling prices for transporting manufactured goods made it possible for manufacturers to locate their facilities wherever in the world they could get workers with the necessary skills at the lowest possible cost. At the time, Chinese manufacturing labor cost a hundredth of what it cost in the United States. U.S. companies that didn't send their manufacturing offshore went out of business. U.S. workers who couldn't compete in increasingly global labor markets were in deep trouble.
Before these developments, being ready to work in a manufacturing plant mostly meant being able to do arithmetic and being literate enough to read instructions and write notes for the foreman on the next shift. But the events of the 1970s and those that followed changed everything. The question was not just whether you could do the job responsibly, but whether someone else anywhere in the world could do it as well or better for less money. If someone else could do it better, you could either lower your wages until you beat the competition on the cost of your labor, or you could develop higher skills to add more value to the products and services you produced, thereby justifying your higher wages. There were no other choices.
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Copyright © 2016 by ASCD
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