Labor Day – Where do we go from here?

The Seattle Times today is filled with stories about the future of the American worker, and how workers of tomorrow will have to have more education and skills than many of today’s workers.

Labor Day 2010: Few jobs for low-skilled workers

There is a certain irony this Labor Day at a time of record unemployment, writes Evelyn Ganzglass. Fixing the problem requires more than creating an environment in which the private sector can create new jobs. Too many of today’s workers lack the skills necessary to compete in the 21st-century

Future jobs: More skills or less pay

Whenever companies start hiring freely again, job-seekers with specialized skills and education will have plenty of good opportunities. Others will face a choice: Take a job with low pay — or none at all. That’s the sobering message American workers face as they mark Labor Day at a time of high unemployment, scant hiring and a widespread loss of job security

I recently finished Richard Florida’s book “The Great Reset” which makes a similar case. You can read a short(er) article on by Florida in March issue of The Atlantic magazine on the same topic. Click here for the article. I recommend the book.

All these writers make the same point – this is not a normal recession and things will be different afterwards. How Washington state comes out of the recession will depend on the short and long term decisions about public policy we make today. Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” changed America after the depression, but so did the GI bill, and the dramatic increase in high school graduation rates that happened at the same time. America got smarter, more productive, and our economy exploded. We can do this again, but it will require us to be thoughtful about the choices we make.

Workers without skills and knowledge to compete in the new economy will be at a terrible disadvantage. Regions with high percentages of workers with degrees, knowledge and skills will create and attract businesses that are knowledge and skill dependent. These businesses are the ones that will pay living wages and will grow in the new economy. Our education system, from pre-school to graduate programs, creates the seed corn for the economy and we should make sure that we not only protect it during these difficult times, but that we seriously look at the changes that we need to make so that our children can compete for the jobs of the future.

  1. Create graduation requirements that ensure that all children have the opportunity for an education that prepares them for college. Not all young people will want to attend college, but they should be able to make that decision when they are 17, not have it made for them by attending a school without a rigorous curriculum. The state board of education needs to adopt the “Core24” proposal they have been considering, and not water it down.
  2. Maintain our focus on data. We need to use the data we have to relentlessly focus on student improvement. Without data about student achievement we are making uninformed decisions.
  3. Finish the work on teacher and principal evaluations so that everyone has data about what’s working and what’s not. Again, without data we cannot make improvements. The new contract in Seattle is a step forward.
  4. Deliver on the commitment for adequate funding. The legislature approved a plan last year that works us towards full funding for basic education by 2018. We can do all the accountability work we want but without adequate funding it will not work.

Funding will be difficult next year, but we can stay with our commitment and still deal with the budget situation if we prioritize correctly.

The text above deals with K-12, typically my focus in the legislature, but we will also need to improve what we do in early learning  and higher education if we want to be the kind of region that attracts investment and the creation of companies that create high-quality, living wage jobs.

There is more to do to be the kind of region that will succeed in the time after the “reset,” but having a highly educated population is the most crucial activity.

You’ll hear more from me this fall on the agenda for 2011, including some detailed thoughts on education, the budget, economic development (jobs,) and transportation policy. All of these policy prescriptions have to tie together into a combined vision for the future of Washington or it won’t work.

Author: Ross

I am the Director of the Department of Early Learning for Washington State. I formerly represented the 48th Legislative District in the State House of Representatives, chairing the Appropriations committee and spent many a year at Microsoft.