Wednesday, October 12, 2011

An Alarming Contradiction--Job Openings Are Going Unfilled

Make the school day longer, and then cut access to a free educational opportunity?

(We'll return to the world of movies later this week.)

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel caused a  furor recently by pressing legislation to lengthen the school day in Chicago Public Schools.  A typical school day had been from 9:00am-2:45pm, or 5 hours and 45 minutes. Emanuel sought to add about 90 minutes of additional instruction time per day.

Emanuel's primary concern, in an era when a well-trained workforce is crucial to a vastly changing job market, was that children would receive the additional instruction needed to prepare them for advanced study, or to qualify them for positions as skilled workers.

Then, I heard something that made me pause:

Today, Emanuel's first annual budget for the city was unveiled.  One of the many measures, proposed to close a multi-million-dollar deficit, was to shorten the hours at many Public Libraries.

That sounded to me like a mixed message.

Is Emanuel paying lip service to increased instruction and competitive education?  Why keep kids in school longer and then restrict citizens' access to materials that may help them learn and improve their lives?

As reported in the Tribune, libraries will be closed during their "least-used" hours.  But why not encourage heavier usage?  Why not turn the libraries into centers of workforce development and community education?  It makes no sense to decrease access to a center of free inquiry and self-improvement and education. 

Libraries should not be relegated to the dustbin of history.  There are a lot of materials, archived preserved, that are still useful, especially reference materials, that can still be used, to maintain a depth of knowledge, and a  more complete worldview.

I think it is dangerous to rely on the Intenet for all of one's information and instruction.  It's as absurd to think that the Internet is a reliable and objective source of all reference material, history, culture, and news, as it was assumed at one time that Television was all one needed for one's information and education.

Search engines are sponsored; search results as a result can be filtered.   Material on the internet is unfettered, much of it lacking the "antiquated" principles of accuracy and objectivity.  It's a wild frontier in many ways.

All of this feeds into my reaction to a surprising and disturbing story I have heard a lot recently, summarized well in the Huffington Post:

While 14 million people in the US are looking for work, 52 percent of U.S. employers have difficulty filling critical positions within their organizations -- up from 14 percent in 2010.

Many of the manufacturing jobs going unfilled require skills and knowledge in math and sciences.  In 1980 these disciplines accounted for 11.1 percent of college graduates. In 2009, it fell to 8.9 percent.

Older workers are retiring, and younger workers have either not applied to fill these vacancies, or else lack the proper background and training.  Many vocational training programs have been cut, or else are out of date.

We need to reinforce all opportunities to educate its citizens and potential workers, within the schools and within the community.  Make a case for extended schooldays (and, maybe, consider compensating teachers proportionately). Also, don't close a community center of free inquiry and exploration--the Public Library--but find ways to make it more active in workforce training.

American culture has to commit wholeheartedly to the idea of lifelong education, in all of its forms...and that means, not restricting access to educational materials, just to close a budget deficit.

Read the article to get an idea of the gravity of the situation in which thousands of jobs are going unfilled in this time of alarming long-term unemployment (which you can find on this link).

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