Higher Education Policy and Practice

Public Policy: Meeting This Country’s Workforce Needs

Meeting this country’s workforce needs is a critical issue that is defining the future of the United States, individual states and our local communities.  The quality and availability of the workforce is a vital strategic asset that will determine world order and security.  Technology will impact new business opportunities, employment opportunities and the standard of living in the very poorest of nations.  Demands for a workforce prepared to meet the needs of a changing economy will be immense and challenging as the U.S. and nations throughout the world establish priorities and allocation of resources to be dedicated to this public policy agenda.  The increasing complexity and interconnectedness of the global economy dictates careful scrutiny in the context of our economic security.

General Maxwell Taylor’s 1974 essay titled “The Legitimate Claims of National Security” has this to say:

The national valuables in this broad sense include current assets and national interests, as well as the sources of strength upon which our future as a nation depends.  Some valuables are tangible and earthy; others are spiritual or intellectual.  They range widely from political assets such as the Bill of Rights, our political institutions and international friendships, to many economic assets which radiate worldwide from a highly productive domestic economy supported by rich natural resources.  It is the urgent need to protect valuables such as these which legitimizes and makes essential the role of national security.

General Taylor’s essay challenges all degrees of the status quo.  Public and private entities must, by necessity, recognize that a strong economy can only be made possible by a well-educated, prepared workforce.   At this critical juncture of our country’s future, policy making requires facts that are supported by data and prudent analysis, knowledge and understanding of the issues, the necessity for public participation, and a futuristic view of short and long term implications.  It is this perspective that needs to drive all workforce development policy issues.  In it’s purest form a focused policy will influence strategic planning, legislation, government budget decisions, education policy and business planning.  Nationally the issue of workforce development has not received the necessary attention that is vital to our security.  The development of such policy can only be tasked by bringing together defined business sectors, education entities (public and private), workforce training entities, government agencies, labor, both the executive and legislative branches of state government and organizations who are identified as having the necessary background and expertise.

In the late 1990’s North Dakota was a state with little economic diversity, population loss and minimal efforts conducted to foster a working relationship between the private sector and the North Dakota University System.  There existed a vacuum of workforce development policy and only a loose network of colleges and universities.  Efforts to encourage collaboration between the community colleges, state universities and the research universities focused upon the economic future of the state and surrounding region were minimal.

In 1999 the North Dakota Legislative Assembly passed a resolution directing a study be conducted that would “enhance the economic vitality of North Dakota and the quality of life of its citizens through a high quality, more responsive, equitable, flexible, accessible, entrepreneurial, and accountable University System.”

A group of 21 legislators and 40 leaders from government, education (public, private, tribal colleges and K-12) and the private sector formed the “Roundtable” to assess the future of North Dakota.  The Roundtable developed recommendations that addressed the state’s needs in the coming century and global trends that would shape the economic future of the state.  Six cornerstones were established as essential to the foundation of the Roundtable, each to be reviewed and modified as needed on an annual timeframe.  The cornerstones were:

  1. Contribution to Economic Development
  2. Education Excellence
  3. Flexible and Responsive
  4. Access
  5. Funding and Rewards
  6. Sustaining the Vision

A sharp focus upon jobs development was initiated and has since continued to grow as a result of policy changes made within the North Dakota University System, state government and the private sector.

The Roundtable Report, “A North Dakota University System for the 21st Century” is available on the North Dakota University System website, and a follow-up document from 10/8/08, “Report of the Roundtable on Higher Education”, is available here.

The education system of the United States needs continuous review and scrutiny in order to ensure the reconciliation of the dynamics of the world’s economic changes and the educational attainment needed for a well-prepared workforce and a secure nation.  The hallmark of progress and accomplishment rests upon the development of educational opportunities for all who may be in and out of the workforce at any given time.  Workforce policy must address the need for educational access for all ages, from pre-school through retirement.

We all have a vested interest and responsibility to be strategic, inclusive, imaginative, futuristic and aggressive in moving this identified agenda forward. Policy makers must undertake this task and be responsible in doing so.  The challenge of creating employment opportunities, addressing greater income equality and securing this country’s economic future is a task that must be addressed with urgency.

For more information, please contact us at [email protected].

About the Author: William Goetz, M.A.

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