The Bertelsmann Foundation’s fourth annual conference (19 April 2012 in Washington, DC) included a panel entitled “In the Know, Learning to Create Jobs.” The participants were Sergio Silva do Amaral (Chairman of the China-Brazil Business Council and Brazil’s former Minister of Trade and Industry), Thomas J Donahue (President and CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce), Brian Gallagher (CEO and President of United Way International), and Margarethe Vestager (Minister for Economic Affairs and the Interior, Denmark).
Minister Vestager emphasized the need for skills training in secondary schools in a globalized economy. She warned against cutting investment in skills training, because this could undercut a nation’s competitiveness as the economy recovers. Regardless of economic climate, a skilled workforce is essential. Mr. Donahue emphasized the need for austerity and the simultaneous necessity of incentivizing job creation in the private sector, which would be based upon a trained labor force.
Mr. Gallagher re-directed the conversation and addressed the importance of public-private partnerships and collaboration between businesses, governments and citizen interests to bring education, skills training, mentoring and career development to those who need it most. He pointed out that public secondary schools are detached from the job market, and the drop-out crisis in America is partly due to the fact that students don’t know why they are in school. Furthermore, in order to bring jobs to the “lower third” we need to move away from mere “self-interest” and work together- this means government/non-governmental organizations (NGO) and private industry support. Additionally, there is a need for incentives because the (individualist) culture in the US rails against collaborative partnerships of this nature. Mr. Donahue added that this challenge is peculiarly post-industrial, as over 20% of manufacturing jobs have been lost.
Adding global context, Minister Vestager added that in much of Europe, universal healthcare is not tied to employment; therefore the workforce is much more flexible compared to the US, where joblessness not only means a lack of income, but also a general lack of access to essential healthcare. I agree with her. This presents a particular challenge to the United States, where unemployment rates hover around 10% and millions more lack access to healthcare, because employment does not guarantee affordable or comprehensive health insurance. This is a complex challenge that requires equally complex solutions, and education and skills training should be in synthesis with the implementation of incentives for job creation, as the panelists suggested.