Career Development Education

The U.S. Skills Gap: Is Poor Education or Lack of Motivation the Culprit?

The Skills Gap in the U.S. Economy

There has been much talk about the skills gap that exists among the American work force with estimates of 3 million job openings unfilled because of the lack of skilled labor.  It is also widely known that the U.S. ranks poorly relative to the world when comparing student scores on standardized tests in science, math, and reading.  Why do we have such a large skills gap in the workforce and why are American students outperformed by their global counterparts?

Is Education Failing?

In a previous blog post, The Problem with Fun, I wrote about a topic that was highlighted on NPR and in a book called Academically Adrift regarding the lack of academic rigor in our education system.  There are certainly many other critiques that can be made about the U.S. education system and how it has contributed to the skills gap as well as the poverty gap in the United States.  The cost of education has increased dramatically whereas student test scores and skilled labor has decreased dramatically.  There’s definitely something wrong with this equation but is the education system the only culprit?

What’s the Role of Personal Motivation and Attitude?

There are many aspects to review including the role of parents, teachers, technology, legislation, educational and governmental leadership, and so many other variables.  However, one variable more interesting to me is the role of personal motivation and attitude. Are recent generations less motivated than older generations?  Do recent generations have less of a work ethic than older generations?  If so, what are the causes of these generational characteristics if believed to be true and more importantly, what is to be done about the problem?

Has the American Dream been Shattered?

I’d say there is an argument to be made that recent generations seem to have an attitude of entitlement which often characterizes Gen Y, also known as the Millennial generation.  It used to be the “American Dream” that if you got a decent education and worked hard, you could have a good-paying, stable job, a house with a picket fence, and money in your bank account when you retired.  Has this changed?  If so, what is the “American dream” now and how has this change in the proverbial carrot on the stick affected personal motivation and attitude?  Moreover, should people still believe that if they get a decent education and work hard, they can be “successful?”  With a failing, expensive education system and a widening gap between the 99% (Rich) and the 1% (Poor), has the premise of education and hard work being the keys to success been shattered?  If it has been shattered, what does it mean for the baby boomers who have held on to this belief who find themselves unprepared for the world they now inhabit?

A Point of View Worthy of Examination

The problems seem cyclical.  If a lack of motivation and a declining work ethic are to blame for poor student performance and ultimately, the skills gap, we’d have to examine from where these attitudes stem.  If our education system is failing and hard work no longer leads to success, why should students be motivated to care about education or to have a strong work ethic?  Whether these views are perception or reality can be argued but this is a point of view worthy of examination.  Is the world changing at a pace that is impossible for our archaic educational system to keep up?  If so, how must we re-think education and professional development so that the skills gap doesn’t continue to widen?  These aren’t discussions that should just occur within academia or government, but with students and parents as well.  One thing is for sure, we need more people to get involved.

This is a thought-provoking video on Changing Education Paradigms

What do you think?

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