Business and Education Need to Talk

More than two years ago, The Conference Board, a major international business research organization, issued a report called "Ready To Innovate: Are Educators and Executives Aligned on the Creative Readiness of the U.S. Workforce?"

The report was the first time that the vital link to a creative and innovative economy was made clear, and the road to America's success and survival was spelled out for all to see -- particularly in the business community.

In summary, the report asked three questions:

"Are U.S. businesses and K-12 school systems making the link between creative skill sets in the workforce and innovation? Are businesses finding the creative talent they need to generate the innovative solutions and products demanded by the marketplace? And what efforts are both of these groups making to train employees in the needed creative skills?"

The survey revealed that "both the superintendents who educate future workers and the employers who hire them agree that creativity is increasingly important in U.S. workplaces (99 percent and 97 percent, respectively), and that arts-training -- and, to a lesser degree, communications studies -- are crucial to developing creativity.

Yet, there is a gap between understanding this truth and putting it into meaningful practice. Our findings indicate that most high schools and employers provide such training and studies only on an elective or 'as needed' basis."

It also found that "when the discussion turns to instilling creativity in the workforce, the conversation often begins and ends with curricular and teaching approaches are needed...(and) the results from our survey suggest that this responsibility should in fact be shared broadly -- by educators, employers, and other interested individuals."

Because of the worldwide spread of technology -- particularly the Internet -- and the globalization of markets, it is a new ballgame. As Business Week Magazine said almost six years ago: "The game is changing. It isn't just about math and science anymore. It's about creativity, imagination, and, above all, innovation."

The fact is, most of the manufacturing jobs were lost over the last 20 years. Now with globalization in full bloom, America is beginning to see the outlines of yet another out-migration of American jobs. Unlike the earlier shift of manufacturing jobs to less developed East Asian countries, the loss of the latest round of high-tech software and service jobs will have dramatic, some say devastating, impacts on America's economic wealth and well-being.

Twenty years ago, it was fashionable to blame foreign competition and cheap labor markets abroad for the loss of manufacturing jobs in the United States, but the pain of the loss was softened by the emergence of a new services industry. Now, it is the service sector jobs that are being lost. This shift of high tech service jobs will be a permanent feature of economic life in the 21st century.

Today, the demand for creativity has outpaced our nation's ability to create enough workers simply to meet our needs. Our schools and our businesses need to rethink the needs of the nation, and rethink the important roles of creativity and innovation.

Are we ready to innovate as the Conference Board asks?

Frankly, I have been following these issues for several years -- more acutely lately. I have seen some action and heard some concerns but, as they say, the jury is still out. I guess I am one of those "glass-is-half-full" guys and am guardedly optimistic.