“Our Graduates Must Compete in the World” from the Albuquerque Journal

America’s choice (is) high skills or low wages. Either America will do whatever is necessary to create high-performance work organizations and the high skill levels needed to sustain them, or the country will continue to slide toward low skills and the low pay that goes with them. The choice is ours to make.” (Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce) Businesses are no longer geographically bound to produce products in their home countries. Toyota can build cars as easily in Evansville, Ind., as it can in Japan. Motorola can assemble pagers as easily in Singapore as it does in Fort Lauderdale. Look at the label of any “American product.” General Motors makes cars in Canada and Korea as well as the United States. IBM makes some of its computers in Mexico as well as the Far East. Pitney Bowes puts its name on the outside of some photocopy machines while Ricoh puts its mechanisms inside.

Neither are companies geographically bound in their hiring practices.

Companies are capable of flying around the globe in search of cheap labor, to places where taxes are reasonable, regulations are limited, and where workers are qualified to run, repair, design and develop machinery. The question frequently asked is, “Why should the American business community have to spend money teaching entry-level employees the skills they should have acquired in high school and college when they can employ workers in foreign countries who are better prepared and will work cheaper?”

Jobs have become more complex. In the first half of the 20th century, physical power was the engine that drove economic development. Since the 1950s, brainpower is the driving force. In 1950, two-thirds of Americans who had jobs worked with their hands, while one-third worked with their minds. Today the ratio is reversed.

Knowledge and information – the commodities of the 21st century are the most easily transported resources a nation can possess. Knowledge can be taught to anyone, anywhere, anytime.

To compete in the global marketplace, New Mexico’s business community must depend on a well-trained, technologically prepared work force, and if they cannot find those workers here, they will look elsewhere. No longer does a New Mexico graduate have to compete against other American graduates for jobs but against the best graduates of Singapore, China and the United Kingdom.

New Mexico’s schools are improving. The problem is that they are improving numerically, while the world and the workplace change exponentially. The obvious answer to retaining, high-income, high-technologically skilled jobs to is to improve our educational achievement levels. And even that will not ensure that jobs will stay in the country. But without a highly educated work force, we cannot even gain admission into the game of global competitiveness.

The key to economic development in Albuquerque and New Mexico is to increase our graduation rate and lower our dropout rate. If you look at the problems facing our state “¹ welfare, health costs, taxes and crime “¹ you find at the very core, education. You cannot solve any of these societal problems without starting at the core, and by improving education you begin the process of reforming the other systems.

As John Akers, former chairman of IBM said, “Education isn’t just a social concern, it’s a major economic issue. If our students can’t compete today, how will our companies compete tomorrow?”

By Franklin P. Schargel, Guest Commentary. This article originally appeared on October 31, 2002 as a “From the Executive’s Desk” article in the Outlook Section of the Albuquerque Journal.

Copyright 2002 Albuquerque Journal.