“Tomorrow’s illiterate will not be the man who can’t read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn” (from Future Shock, Toffler, 1970/1984) — Herbert Gerjuoy, Psychologist
Perhaps, these days, the only thing to be said about having a high school diploma is that it determines what opportunities students will have for the education and training they need after high school to prepare for their first job or career. I used to tell students that getting a high school diploma was like buying a farm. The diploma is the deed to the property. You still have to go out and work the land every day or the field grows over with weeds and will be good for nothing. In today’s work world, a high school education is the very beginning of what is needed, not the end. Now more than ever, what happens to students in high school determines the money they will make, where they will live, what schools their children will attend, where they buy their groceries, their health care, and more. For perhaps the first time in the history of the United States, those students who are prepared to continue their education and training will do better in their lives than those who are not.
Today’s work world has changed significantly in the past two or three decades. We see evidence of that every day. The United States, and much of the developed world, does not need labor in the same way it did when there were factories and the need for people to supply them with parts and services. Manufacturing jobs continue to decline. Think of it: the companies that people know the most about these days were not even on the map fifty years ago. We have traded names like US Steel, Alcoa, General Electric, and Georgia Pacific for Starbucks, Google, Microsoft, and FedEx. Though General Motors and Ford remain as the most recognizable United States manufacturing brands, it took a government bailout for that to be true. Many manufacturing companies that were once giants, like Kodak and Gulf Oil, no longer exist. Some, like Chrysler, once a top-tier company, now owned by Italian car maker Fiat, have been bought by either foreign or other US companies. Many manufacturing companies, once giants in the United States, have gone global. For example, IBM gets about 60 percent of its business from operations outside of the United States. And when Apple released its iPhone 5, the boost to the US economy was significant because of the company’s presence around the globe. In reality, the United States has moved from manufacturing lots of stuff to providing innovation, services, and intellectual capital to the world.
What does this mean to students? Well, for one thing, it means that manufacturing jobs as we have known them are gone. And those that exist demand skills and knowledge past high school. It means that students must be ready to begin their preparation for their chosen career or their first job with a higher degree of success than ever before. Because there are fewer jobs available for people without education or training—in something—it means that education and training after high school are more critical than ever before. What used to be a choice, continued education and training after high school, has gotten to be a necessity. The shift from being a high manufacturing country to being a country that supplies the world with intellect, innovation, and services means that high school has become the stepping-stone to the education and training needed for jobs and careers in the United States.