Friday, April 16, 2010

AmericaWorks: A Blueprint for Permanently Increasing U.S. Employment

AmericaWorks has three components:

America Aides: The government would encourage people to hire homework helpers for their children, mentors, tutors, and personal assistants for themselves (e.g., to learn technology, Spanish, or English), members of a U.S. Beautification Army for their home and block, and companions for their aged parents.

Hire An American: Encourage job seekers to post their resume on The federal government would market this database globally, encouraging other countries to offshore to the US.

Career-Friendly Curriculum, K-16. Replace material needed by few, for example, quadratic equations, with material needed by most, for example: financial literacy, entrepreneurship, service learning.


Well-paying jobs will require ever more skills, abilities, intelligence, and drive. For the millions of Americans who cannot realistically be expected to acquire high-enough levels of those attributes, I propose America Aides. The government would mount a public awareness campaign on the wisdom of people hiring aides throughout the lifespan: as homework helpers for their children. in their career (as, for example, tutors in technology, Spanish or English, or as career or personal coaches,) for their homes and apartments (a member of a U.S. Beautification Army) to weed, paint, clean out garages and basements, recycle, etc. and for their aged, living-alone relatives.

For example, with brief training, even many low-ability people could be trained to successfully be one-on-one aides in classrooms and to seniors living alone. Imagine the peace of mind of having someone daily visit your aging parent to ensure they've taken their medications, walk to reduce the likelihood of blood clots, and keep them company to combat the loneliness common among the live-alone elderly.

AmericaWorks would, with modest government investment, create millions of rewarding, ethical and, importantly, not-offshoreable jobs that would improve the quality of life for millions of Americans and for the nation as a whole.


Job seekers would be encouraged to enter their resume into a national jobs database: That would be made available to all government, private-sector, and nonprofit employers, worldwide.
To encourage international employers to hire from that database, the U.S. would launch an international marketing effort to promote the benefits of hiring American--for example, the creative and innovative spirit that is core to being American. Just as many American businesses have been convinced to hire offshore employees, the new American workforce, improved because of the revamped education system described above, would become more attractive to the world's 200+ other countries. American workers could become known, for example, as among the world's most intrapreneurial.


Elementary school

The curriculum would increase career exploration: via videos, reading, guest speakers, field trips, etc., to make career selection a part of kids' consciousness. There would be entrepreneurship programs, for example, by creating in-class businesses, e.g., divide the class into two healthy snack-making/selling businesses. In that context, kids would learn to assess risk-reward and think entrepreneurially (find a need and fill it ethically). Those skills would be threaded--at ever more demanding levels--through the curriculum, through college. In parallel, modules on service learning would be included--encouraging students, early, to consider careers in government and the nonprofit sectors.

Parents would be encouraged to create an ethical entrepreneurship-friendly atmosphere at home.

High school

Prior to entering high school, in consultation with counselor and parents, students would select a career path based on a review of the child's academic record and an inventory of her or his career aptitudes and interests.

Importantly, high-quality career paths that don't require college would be available for students whose record suggests they'd more likely be successful and happy without attending college. Such programs would lead to apprenticeships, jobs at the elbow of entrepreneurs, the military, etc. They'd end up with such careers as MRI machine tech, chef, military officer, small business owner, etc. Students who are not academically oriented are much more likely to find successful employment through such paths than being force-fed Shakespeare, simultaneous equations, and chemical reaction formulas. Students and parents would be reassured that choosing a career path does not consign themselves to a life in that career--many of the skills taught in that career path would be applicable to many other careers. To ensure opportunities to excel, there would be honors classes in non-college-bound career paths.

It should be stressed that today's growing pressure to prepare an ever higher percentage of students to enter so-called four-year colleges (fewer than 40% graduate in four years) is destroying countless lives by forcing students into abstraction-filled academic paths where they are far less likely to be successful than if they had pursued a high-quality path that doesn't lead to a four-year college. According to the U.S. Department of Education, of the 200,000 freshmen at so-called four-year college each year who graduated in the bottom 40% of their high school class, three-fourths do not graduate even if given 8 1/2 years! And most of those who defy the odds and graduate do so from low-prestige colleges and with easy majors such as art or sociology, which impress few of today's let alone tomorrow's employers. Most of those students end up with huge debt, having enduring a multi-year assault to their self-esteem, and are less hireable for good jobs than if they had taken a non-college-requiring, high-quality career path in and/or post-high school.

For all students, effective oral and written real-world communication would take precedence over the use of onomatopoeia. Learning how to assess risk/reward would take precedence over geometric theorems. Understanding how to critique a research study reported in the media would take precedence over learning atomic structures. Strategic planning would be prioritized over macroeconomic theory. Financial literacy would take precedence over literary analysis.

Each high-school student would be paired with an mentor (probably online) who would communicate with the teen and perhaps offer him or her an after-school or vacation volunteer or even paid position. Each school would have a mentorship coordinator to prevent and address problems and to encourage people to serve as mentors.

Professional associations of the major careers would be encouraged to carefully review how much pre-service training is truly needed. Training length has increased at a time when, because of the availability of just-in-time information on the Internet, training length should be decreasing. In addition, career training often isn't best provided by universities--Those research- and theory-based professors are often less able than master practitioners to provide effective career training. Making the above changes would both improve training and increase the number of trained professionals--because of the lower cost and time of training.

Students would be required to complete interactive modules in technology, succeeding in business (e.g., how to run a planning meeting), how to manage a nonprofit or government agency, and ethics, which would be anchored by students role playing commonly occurring ethical dilemmas.

While parents should be allowed to have their children opt out, a comprehensive sex education program should be provided starting in middle school or certainly in high school. Teenage and unwanted pregnancies are too likely to produce a child who will grow up to be minimally employable. As in the ethics module, core would be simulations of critical incidents, for example, explicit "lines" commonly used by teenagers to seduce.


Colleges would be required to disclose to prospective students a College Report Card: for each major, the percentage of students who graduate within four years and, within a year of graduation, are earning a middle-class living. These data would be disaggregated by high school GPA and SAT score. The College Report Card would also include--for varying freshman achievement levels--the average freshman-to-senior growth in reading, writing, critical thinking, and mathematical reasoning.

Starting at freshman orientation, students would be required to take programs in career selection, job searching, obtaining internships and/or starting a business.

U.S. higher education leads the world in research produced but lacks in teaching quality. The core reason is that professors are hired and promoted heavily based on research productivity. That requires a skill and value set too different from what's required to teach undergraduates. Those hired to teach undergraduates should, at minimum, be required to complete a teaching bootcamp.

As stated earlier, courses in career-related majors should more often be taught by master practitioners than by research-oriented professors.

This proposal was developed by Marty Nemko. He holds a Ph.D. specializing in educational program development and evaluation from the University of California, Berkeley and subsequently taught in U.C. Berkeley's Graduate School of Education. U.S. News & World Report called him "Career coach extraordinaire." At ABC-TV's Summit on Education, he was introduced him as "The Ralph Nader of Education." He can be reached at or 510-655-2777.


Allen said...

Your plan may work in the short term but after reading the book "The End of Work" by economist Jeremy Rifkin I am concerned that there will simply be so much excess production due to automization that there will not be enough demand to keep the economy moving with everyone working. And so it should be, as a country we should be increasing the quality of life by decreasing work week hours and increasing monetary benefits for society as a whole so that we can have time opened up for personal and society enhancing projects that are not profit driven. Collectively we have to choose to end the rat race and Dr. Nemko's recognition that college is a waste of money for a good deal of students is a great, important first step.

Anonymous said...

There should be an ethics component in the high school curriculum. While most kids are tech savvy these days, computer literacy should be a requirement for graduation.

Marty Nemko said...

Rifkin's approach has a fatal flaw. In limiting employment to 30 hours a week, it means that the best doctors, engineers, bosses, etc, who now --because they're so good and thus in demand--typically work 50 to 60 hours a week. If they're limited to 30 hours, the weakest doctors, engineers, bosses, etc., who currently are unemployed, will be taking their hours. In other words, the best will be replaced by the worst.

Marty Nemko said...

I totally agree about adding the technology and especially the ethics requirement. I will add it to the draft. Thank you.

Cornhusker said...

I like your plan. However, it would take forever to get buy-in from the government. In the meantime, I would encourage parents to follow your outline as much as possible while raising their children. It would require extra effort, but it would be worth it. By the way, did the schools offer career aptitude tests at one time? I am 48 and have never taken such a test. I believe they would be more reliable than a career "interest" test which always shows that I should be an actress or writer. Not very helpful or practical!

ST said...

I completely understand your point, of course, but to be fair, if a student is being "force fed" stochastic processes (I'm reading probability theory, etc.), they will have been quite a ways into math already. Now, quadratic equations, while probably toward the end of algebra I (if not in algebra II), might be more realistic. But even then, the non college bound would only be required to take algebra I, and the force feeding would be toward the end, and then they'd be done with it forever.

Even better would be the sorts of practical and technical math I see in the tech schools and community colleges, where the math directly applies to the technology supports jobs (more blue collar-ish) at hand.

Otherwise, having real exposure and career direct and support at an early age would be great and I wish I had had that. I know career directions change as one ages, but to be recognized and supported would still be valuable.

Marty Nemko said...

Good point, ST, re the stochastic processes. I've deleted it. I've added your other good point about practical math--e.g., thinking probabilistically.

Marty Nemko said...

Cornhusker, I agree that it's dubious the govt will take action but I can't help being excited by the fact that I will have face time with Jackie Speier, a respected congresswoman, to discuss if and how to present this to others in Washington (e.g., Sec. of Labor, Hilda Solis). Plus, I do have a connection with a very senior official in the White House, to whom I will send a later draft. What do I have to lose by trying to promulgate it? A little time? That's time worth spending, in my view. But you're right, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for government to enact my plan, even in part. So yes, it behooves parents to try to implement it.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the problem is with American workers or their education system.

It's a structural problem created by our political masters.

Paul Craig Roberts explains excellently the problem,

"Some try to avoid the issue of comparative advantage with an argument that we always benefit anytime we can acquire a good or service at a lower opportunity cost. This is true as partial equilibrium analysis. If 20,000 US workers involved in the production of brassieres lose their jobs to cheaper foreign producers, their loses will be outweighed by gains to 100 million American women. However, we cannot generalize this argument without the assumption of trade based on comparative advantage. If the full range of domestic labor involved in tradable goods and services can be replaced by cheaper foreign labor, the loss of incomes outweighs the lower prices. The lower prices themselves will be lost to currency devaluation."

No amount of education or behavioral changes wil overcome these structural problems.

Marty Nemko said...

Dear OpenID,

You make excellent points, which, in part, is why I did not title my post, "A Blueprint for Creating Full Employment in the U.S. Economy." The structural Catch-22 you describe is one of a number of factors precluding permanent full employment in the U.S.

What I've proposed in no way punishes the rest of the world, as increased tariffs would do. It only enables Americans to add greater value to the world.

I believe the U.S. will not, en toto, for the foreseeable future be able to successfully compete with such countries as China and India. The blueprint I propose is one that I predict would enable the U.S. to remain relatively vibrant.

Without it, I believe we are in rapid descent to becoming a third-world nation. Every civilization has its rise and fall: The Greeks, Romans, Ottoman, British, etc. I believe that without a comprehensive, long-term initiative like America Works, roughly equivalent in magnitude to the space program and the civil rights effort, the American empire is in its decline and soon, fall.

Anonymous said...

My comments on your idea:

-Preschool: a good idea to train the parents to let their children take risks, but teachers should be trained in this as well. And they should be trained how to do this with different kids. Some will be more natural risk-takers than others.

-Elementary school: perhaps this would not be an unreasonable age to begin job shadowing? This is the "bring your child to work day" age. Surely a child (with or without a parent/guardian, depending on the child's age) could spend an hour or two shadowing the owner of a business, introducing the entrepreneurial basics.

One thing I haven't heard you mention is the overall culture. While I agree that change more often happens one on one, the environment kids grow up in is highly influential, too. I think the entrepreneurial spirit must be encouraged & strengthened outside of the school curriculum as well for this plan to take hold and be a success.

chrissauceda said...

To give some background on myself, I am a senior in highschool as well as a sophomore at my local university. I am planning to start a business(s) soon and when I graduate from college I will serve as an officer in (hopefully) the Navy Seals as well as work on on-the-side businesses. After a few years of the military life I then plan to either working for the CIA, be an entrepreneur, or go back to school to do research, but this after-military life is subject to change.

Your plan puts a lot of weight on children’s immature decisions. I remember just a couple years ago I absolutely hated school. Then I was forced into taking a human biology class. Turns out I love the subject and am now contemplating earning a terminal degree and contributing to the field. This is all because I was forced into taking a class. If your plan goes through, this type of thing could never happen and people wouldn't even know what they were missing out on.

Related to this, if you gave kids a chance to experience an actual job (i.e. shadowing), they are likely to be turned off by the boredom of most jobs. Take a computer programming position; this would appear blatantly dull, but for the programmer, running their program might be the biggest thriller they get all day.

On second thought however, giving kids a chance to see some types of jobs would be extremely beneficial. I live in a town where many people work in factories. In fact, many of my relatives work in a factory, as well as fast food. I bet if you showed kids the mundane work that goes on in these factories or fast food joints, combined with the salaries and job quality experienced by the workers, kids might be sparked with the motivation to work elsewhere or even start their own business, instead of living at the finger of a boss.

Your plan will require Americans to convert to entrepreneurism. You already know this, but that will take a long time, and in all reality, might be impossible. Especially getting to the root and teaching preschoolers. You should create a Plan B that doesn’t require this.

One problem I foresee, with your plan, is young adults changing jobs once in their chosen field. If taken out of academic schooling and working in an apprenticeship or vo-tech school, kids will suffer much anxiety over the question, "Is this what I want to do for the rest of my life?". I think we would see a high dropout rate, or changing of jobs, in these vo-tech schools because of this problem. As these youngsters mature, so will their career interests and goals. Today's colleges offer a great atmosphere to deal with this - just change your major. But for the kids whose pursuit is outside the realm of academia, we will need an easy way to deal with this.

One part of your plan that I love is how respect will be given to kids doing non-academic schooling. I think that many kids take the 'honors/AP, then onto college' route because of its prestige. These are often the non-creatives that opt to be impressive over interesting; because they don't know how to be interesting, but still want to be outstanding. But what about the kid who wants to be a standout but happens to hate school? Now, with our current system, the only way out of taking these useless classes is down; falling below parental expectations and not mimicking the standard image of a high-achieving teenager. With your system I would like to see similar honors programs in vo-tech schools, or some sort of prestige kids can earn for outdoing each other.

Another problem that might arise with your plan is kids not being interested in entrepreneurship if it’s presented in schools. Entrepreneurs are often people that want to make a difference and be different, and school, for them, is hardly the place to do that. School is average. Entrepreneurs aren’t. I don’t think the mainstream can ever be entrepreneurial, but that's your job.

I hope your plan goes through, and it might with Obama in office.

Anonymous said...

When pontificating to my wife at night I have also mentioned two items of your blueprint.

1. Less college, more non-college training. Especially as nowadays businesses are unwilling to provide much training to new hires. You either have 7 years of prior experience doing that exact same job or you do not with these companies. Forcing a kid who can't write well through college, only to dump him out in 4-5 years with a C average, no real-world job skills, and $40,000 of debt isn't helping.

2. A central database for resumes and jobs. When unemployed 20 years ago I thought then "there has to be a better way". I couldn't even find WHO was hiring, much less them find me. So I started my own business. I'm actually more suited as a 2nd/3rd banana in a small business than as an owner. But as my management experience was in a rare field, nobody would hire me. Even back then, the idea of spending 2 weeks training me up to speed in a simple business was too much for them.

Anonymous said...

I'd also like to add a point that an intellectual such as yourself may be missing.

Not all labor jobs are bad ones. Hard work is not demeaning. And to put it bluntly, stupid people need good jobs too.

Sometime in the 80's we started slowly teaching our children that they're losers if they don't tipy tap on a keyboard or sit in an office.

We need to get back to valuing labor. Part of that is cutting off the neverending spigot of imported labor and exported factories.

Another argument, but I can prove that globalism is death for advanced nations and will end in a massive redistribution of world wealth to poorer nations. Great for the suffering there. Not so great for us. Expect 50% declines in standard of living.

The hard part is how to put the genie back in the bottle w/o making a mess of it.

Marty Nemko said...

Excellent points, Chris. If you reread the current version, you'll see I incorporated two of them. You sound like a great young man, but of course, I'm sure you've heard that a zillion times.

Anonymous said...

I think I would have made more intelligent career choices - and been of more use to my employers - if I had been forced to take a financial literacy course in high school or college. Employees who understand the basics of finance can help their employer's business, or their own business, to grow and perhaps even help generate enough success to require the hiring of more employees. When money is wasted due to poor internal controls, employees may be cut as in a last-ditch effort to save money.

H said...

Great job, Marty, I think this would be an excellent plan. I really wish something like this had been implemented when I was growing up. I wouldn't have wasted away my prime years only to realize how I don't have any marketable skills, stuck in a job I hate, and trying to figure out career direction in my late twenties. I really wish I knew how important it was to do this kind of exploration in high school, I could imagine how much happier and more productive I would be now. Ironically I am now considering a career change into career counseling and psychology, but if I do that now by the time I graduate I'll be 35! I really support your work and hope the government takes note of this huge problem of my generation. In any case if I ever have children I would encourage them to use your blueprint.

Marty Nemko said...

Thank you, H. I am meeting with the Congresswoman on Friday, with hopes of taking it, with her, to Washington.

Maureen Nelson said...

Good plan. NCDA/CCDA has been trying to get more career development into curriculum (and get it there earlier) for years. Hope you are able to accomplish what large organizations have not. And, of course, voc ed, aka Career Technical Education, needs to be restored as a viable and respectable alternative to college.

My only concern is that Aide America is a little too one-size-fits-all. It will work for those who have "S/Social" somewhere in their Holland code, but doesn't accommodate the "R/Realistic" people who don't have S. Half my lower-level clientele would be happy with aide work, but the other half would run screaming. There should be an alternative that encompasses the warehouse/ truck driver group. Even I would run screaming if I had to: a) work with old people or b) work with children and I am and "S." Maybe they'll all be filtered out by this time -- having gone into CTE -- but what if they aren't? Might want to think a little harder on this one. Good luck!

Marty Nemko said...

Excellent suggestion, Maureen. Indeed, I've received a number of them, nearly all of which I rejected but your I heartily accept. My idea for the "warehouse/truck driver group" is The Beautification Army." People would be encouraged to hire people to weed, paint, clean out garages and basements, recycle, etc. Whaddya think?

Maureen Nelson said...

Great solution! Folding in with that... I just saw yet another article about urban farming - how it gives skills and provides organic produce to the "farmers" themselves, schools, shelters, convalescent hospitals, etc. Also, a program funded by the Nat'l Soc of Black Engineers teaches teens in a housing development how to refurbish computers; participants also must volunteer to teach others in the computer lab, but that could be optional. Most come from families that don't have a computer, so at the end of the program, they get to take one home. With "Garden aides," "Tech aides" and the "Beautification Army," I think we have the R/Realistics covered.