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How globalization is changing the world (21st century skills)

Simply being born in America used to be like winning the lottery. The vast majority of well-paying jobs had to be performed inside the country. But the Internet, common technical standards, and work-flow software meant that work could be carved up into parts, sent out across the globe, and then reassembled into a final product.

Added to these technological advances was a burgeoning workforce in Russia, Eastern Europe, China, and India as a result of social and political changes there and in and other developing nations. As New York Timescolumnist Thomas Friedman put it, “Suddenly more people from more different places could collaborate with more other people on more different kinds of work and share more different kinds of knowledge than ever before.”

This “great doubling” of the workforce, as it’s been called, has clear implications for jobs in the United States—and for students who will soon be competing for those jobs. Chief among those implications is the increasing “off-shoring” of U.S. jobs.

Which jobs are most likely to be outsourced to workers overseas? According to a March 2007 working paper from Princeton University’s Center for Economic Policy Studies, it depends in large part on how easy it is to deliver services electronically over long distances. The five most vulnerable jobs, the center estimates, are:

  • Computer programmers
  • Telemarketers
  • Computer systems analysts
  • Billing and posting clerks
  • Machine operators

Many of these jobs involve repetitive tasks that can be programmed on a computer or scripted, like call-center work. Economists believe jobs that require higher-order thinking, judgment, and communication skills are relatively immune. But thanks to the growing number of educated English speakers in India and elsewhere, such jobs may be outsourced overseas in the future. And once they’re gone, economists agree, these jobs aren’t likely to return.

Facing an increasingly competitive job market, today’s students will need more than just an average education. But currently, compared to students in other industrialized countries, U.S. high school students turn in something of a mediocre performance. For example, U.S. students ranked below the international average in math and science on the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

Until now, this performance has been offset by U.S. students’ superior access to higher education and our economy’s ability to make efficient use of human capital. But these historic advantages may not be ours alone for much longer. For instance, the U.S. high school graduation rate, once the best in the world, now ranks 18th among industrialized countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Whether or not schools can adapt to this changing trend will affect the economy as a whole along with individual workers. According to recent studies, how well students do on international assessments of reading, math, and science predicts their future personal earnings and income distribution as well as national economic growth.

Graduating students will need the higher-order thinking skills described in the previous section on automation along with global literacy (the knowledge of people and cultures outside the United States) to succeed in the 21st century workplace.

For more, see Globalization in the full report, Defining a 21st century education


This summary was based on a work by Craig D. Jerald. Craig D. Jerald is president of Break the Curve Consulting, specializing in education policy, communications, research, and practice. Previously, Jerald was a Principal Partner at the Education Trust, where he worked on issues related to teacher quality, accountability, federal education policy, and the practices of high-performing schools and districts. Jerald was also a Senior Editor at Education Week, where he founded and managed the organization’s research division and helped create Ed Week’s special annual reports series, Quality Counts and Technology Counts.

This summary was written by Sally Banks Zachariya. Zakariya, a free-lance writer based in Arlington, Virginia, is former editor-in-chief of American School Board Journal and director of publications for the National School Boards Association.


Posted: November 4, 2009

©2009 Center for Public Education

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