Science, Jobs, and Economic Growth (adapted from BSCS, 2008)
Our nation depends on the quality of our scientists and engineers to be competitive in the global economy. The National Academy of Sciences report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm (2005), concluded that:
Most scientists would concur that science is essential if students are to understand the world and, even, be good citizens. For many parents, however, a more compelling argument for high-quality science education is that their children need it in order to prosper in a 21st-century workforce. This does not mean that all students need to prepare for a career in science or engineering, but rather that the skills mastered through high-quality science education are among those greatly valued by employers.
In the 1970s, students could attain a middle-class lifestyle with only a high school diploma. Over the past 30 years, however, the skills needed to obtain a job and make a middle-class salary have changed dramatically. During this time, the advent of advanced technology, especially in manufacturing industries that had formerly paid high wages, along with the increasing international trade competition for low-skill jobs have made things much more difficult for students with only a high school diploma.
Even people with a college degree, or more, may not be immune from the forces of globalization. To learn more about the impact of globalization on education, see Rising Above the Gathering Storm .
These difficulties are compounded by the fact that the skill set taught in schools has remained the same over this time period. The education that was effective in the 1970s has stayed the same while the workplace has changed dramatically. In the early years of the 21st century, there is a substantial gap between the skills of graduating high school seniors and the skills valued by employers.
In Teaching the New Basic Skills, Richard Murnane and Frank Levy (1996) describe a new set of skills important to employers and work practices in firms paying middle-class wages. The New Basic Skills are those abilities needed to obtain at least a middle-class position. They include:
In today’s advanced technological world, many employers are willing to teach knowledge specific to their industry, as long as potential employees are proficient at the New Basic Skills. In addition, these skills are needed by all students, regardless of whether they attend college or enter the workforce directly after high school. Murnane and Levy describe why specific jobs, such as working on an auto assembly line or for an insurance company, require skills that were not needed 30 years ago and are not possessed by most applicants today.