NAM: 25 Years Later, We're Still 'A Nation at Risk'

Twenty-five years ago today, the National Commission on Excellence in Education released "A Nation at Risk," a landmark report that condemned America's "mediocre" educational performance. In observance of the report's anniversary, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) yesterday said that not only does the risk continue but, if anything, it has worsened, with manufacturers now facing "the most dramatic workforce crisis in the nation's history." The association said reform of the U.S. public school system is now "a national imperative that must be addressed by government, educators, and business leaders across the nation."

Washington, D.C.-based NAM is the nation's largest industrial trade association, representing small and large manufacturers in every industrial sector and in all 50 states. The association's president John Engler said, "America's public school system is failing to make education relevant to today's career opportunities. We must keep students in school by offering alternative pathways to graduation. We must ensure that high school graduates are ready for work and ready for college if we want to have the educated and prepared workforce necessary to keep America competitive in the global economy."

Engler said 80 percent of manufacturers are reporting shortages of qualified workers, and part of that shortage is attributable to the fact that students, parents, and teachers do not know about manufacturing's promising career opportunities. "It is clear to the nation's manufacturers that America is still 'a nation at risk' when it comes to preparing young people for real life and real jobs," he said. "The timing could not be worse. As competition intensifies in the global marketplace, U.S. manufacturers are having a tough time finding qualified people to replace the retiring baby boom generation in increasingly high-tech and sophisticated jobs."

In response to this crisis, Engler said NAM is aggressively pursuing practical educational and workforce initiatives through its new National Center for the American Workforce. Part of the center's mission is to enable education and business communities to work closely together to align educational programs with the academic and occupational skills necessary for 21st century manufacturing careers.

NAM Senior VP Emily DeRocco is president of the new center, which she says "has an ambitious agenda for change to ensure that more young people graduate from high school ready for advanced education or entry-level work in the manufacturing economy." DeRocco said the center will accomplish that agenda in part through a skills certification system and a "cyber-presence" providing career guidance in the manufacturing economy, directing young people to both education and job opportunities. "We also are exploring ways to bring to scale programs like SkillsUSA, Jobs for America's Graduates, and Project Lead the Way that help at-risk young people stay in school and achieve graduation and a work readiness credential," she said.

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