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As Long as We Remember...

April 21, 2005

Our Changing World Here and Abroad

Alan Imhoff

This past week I had two experiences that demonstrate that change and growth are not just local phenomenon. One involved the theoretical effects of changing workplace demographics on a global scale, the other a practical way to address some of those changes.

Early in the week I attended a meeting of the Frederick County's Workforce Development Board that featured a presentation on "Preparing Youth for the Workforce." According to those making the presentation only 25% of the jobs in U.S. require a four-year college degree, but more alarmingly only 1 out of a 100 high school graduates complete a college degree.

What is facing these high school graduates is a rapidly changing world under the ever-evolving global economy. Who would have ever thought a decade or so ago that China would be doing most of the manufacturing of goods for consumption within the U.S.?

As outsourcing to other countries by American companies continues to "keep costs down," there is a developing problem for all those individuals who do not complete a college education, or elect not to train in a time honored trade, as the jobs they may qualify for are either shipped offshore or go to recent immigrants who are willing to work for less money.

During the presentation, according to a recent study by the Hudson Institute, the following factors that will affect our local economy by 2020 are: the pace of technology change; increased use of automation; it will be brains not brawn needed for most jobs; the individual must demonstrate greater flexibility as jobs evolve and change; and finally the individual must be able to adapt to the changes in specific industries.

Needless to say the presentation last week took over an hour and a half to cover the topic. Hopefully we will all hear more about this in greater detail later in the year as it has a direct bearing on what our public schools will need to do to prepare our children better for this new economy.

But back to the local scene and the second experience. Last week my wife had the opportunity to co-host two public school economic teachers from Moscow as part of an exchange program under the auspices of the National Council on Economic Education (NCEE). For four days they were involved in a number of venues here in the county.

Observing classes at Frederick County Public Schools Academy of Finance program; going to Towson State University to watch an economics team from that program compete in a state-wide competition; tour an elementary, middle and high school; and engage educators from Hood, Mount Saint Mary's, FCC and FCPS in a roundtable discussion were the main reasons for the visit.

However, there were other things to do: a dinner downtown in a restaurant that used to be an opera house; a walk around the historic district; an American backyard cookout; and what ended up being a very cold night at a Frederick Keys game, but the fireworks were great.

So what do these two experiences have in common? For me, it is the simple fact that as most of us scurry back and forth to work, to soccer practice, trying to get the lawn cut and just plain trying to keep up with plain old day-to-day living, little forces like this exchange program are happening all over the U.S. in hundreds of communities while those responsible for charting the course of nations struggle with these dynamics.

I believe it was a Chinese philosopher that once said, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." In all our hustle and bustle, these single steps are being made by people like you and I. I hope you too may someday have a chance to experience one of these single steps; it was great.

To close, what caught my attention most during the four days I was afforded the opportunity to help out, was the final evening where the group assembled for dinner.

In a small Italian restaurant were the two teachers from Moscow, their interpreter born in Russia but now an MBA candidate living in Baltimore, the Vietnamese co-host, head of the Economics Department at Saint Mary's College in Saint Mary's County, a teacher of economics from the Montgomery Public School system, a first generation American of Polish parents and her husband, born in Israel, my wife and myself, an adjunct faculty member at FCC.

The interesting comment of the evening was that even with our very diverse backgrounds, we were all very much alike in many respects, especially when it came to seeing that the students who come before us need to understand that it is not just the subject we are teaching, but how it can help them in the world of tomorrow.

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