Educating for an Innovation Economy

The Idea Makers, Champ, 201230 years ago, the United States could boast that 30% of the world’s college-educated population was American; today, this number has dwindled to 14%, and continues to decline (NCEE, 2008).  Is this because fewer Americans are college bound?  Not likely.  An educated workforce once meant a well-paid workforce, but as the economy has globalized and ICT has improved, our international counterparts took notice of the educational trends, and followed suit.  Not only did other countries increase their secondary education, they improved primary education as well.  Where once American students ranked high internationally on generalized tests, we now place anywhere from the middle to the bottom amongst advanced industrial nations (NCEE, 2008).  To get a good job in the U.S., all you needed was a degree, but education is no longer the sole solution.  Even if Americans succeed in gaining high level skills, the cost of that education is proportionately enormous, considering that equally skilled global counterparts will work for a 75% less.  When a typical American skilled engineer earns $45,000 a year and an equally skilled Indian engineer earns $7,500 a year (NCEE, 2008), it’s no wonder employers turn to other countries to satisfy their bottom line.

What was once a mere push for education has evolved.  What matters now it what kind of education we have, how it was delivered, and whether or not it produces creative thinkers.  It’s not enough to learn facts; information is persistently available at the push of a button.  It’s not enough to know skills; any routine job (even those that are of a high-skill dependency) can be algorithmically mapped and automated.  Today, the most successful in the workforce are the creative innovators.  As stated by the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, “those countries that produce the most important new products and services can capture a premium in world markets that will enable them to pay high wages to their citizens” (NCEE, 2008, p. xxiv).  Welcome to the innovation economy.  It’s not just a catch phrase for politicians, it is a global reality.

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