Spring/Summer 1993 Journal: Work and the Workforce

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Aug. 16, 1993

BOSTON — New England college graduates face an array of job-market pressures once thought of exclusively as the problems of less educated workers, according to a series of articles to be published later this week in CONNECTION: NEW ENGLAND’S JOURNAL OF HIGHER EDUCATION AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT.
CONNECTION is the journal of the New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE). The new issue’s cover stories focus on “Work and the Workforce.”
“A college education has become a virtual necessity for obtaining a good job, but no longer guarantees one,” writes Frederick S. Breimyer, vice president and chief economist at State Street Bank and Trust Co. and president of the New England Economic Project. “Our age is marked by job insecurity, stemming not so much from deficiencies of workers as from the changing requirements of the workplace.”
“In this more fluid context, the search for a good job and a good education will be inherently intertwined, but the relationship between the two will be increasingly dynamic with no set ending,” Breimyer concludes.
Even highly skilled, highly educated New England workers face fierce international competition for good jobs, according to the CONNECTION articles. “A decade or so ago, $2-an-hour workers in South Korea became competitive with $15-an-hour blue-collar workers in Bridgeport, Conn., but managers in the United States didn’t face such global labor market pressures,” writes Ralph Whitehead Jr., a journalism professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. “Now, the $3,000-a-year computer hardware engineer in China’s Pearl River Valley is breathing down the neck of the $45,000-a-year hardware engineer on Route 128.”

Paul E. Harrington and Andrew M. Sum of Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies explain that the economy is producing fewer jobs for the growing number of NewEnglanders who have college educations. “During the 1980s, U.S. colleges awarded approximately 1.2 associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees for every net new college labor market job generated by the economy. This close match resulted in good employment prospects for most college graduates during the 1980s boom period and raised the relative earnings of college graduates considerably,” write Harrington and Sum. “However, during the recessionary 1990-91 period, the ratio of degrees to new college labor market jobs was 6-to-1.”

The CONNECTION authors sound a skeptical note about the job-creating potential of any emerging New England industries “As a nation, we’ve come to a maddening turn in our economic road,” says Whitehead. “In the public mind, the urgent question is: How do we create large numbers of good jobs in the private sector? At the moment, the answer is: We don’t know.”
Whitehead suggests that the economic development role of New England colleges and universities will have to include job creation. “Higher education institutions that already have the capacity to create good private-sector jobs should consider ways to expand it. Institutions that don’t have the capacity, but are willing and able to develop it, should do so. Both sets of institutions should take pains to tell the public what they’re doing. Increasingly, higher education’s claim on public resources will rest on its ability to create a greater share of the jobs that its graduates seek.”
The cover stories also report that New England’s historical skills advantage is in jeopardy. John C. Rennie, the chairman and chief executive officer of Pacer Systems Inc. of Billerica, Mass., and founder of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, warns: “Today, the skill requirements of the workplace are rising, while the competencies of job-seekers are declining. The top, say, 50 percent of graduates of decent colleges and universities are keeping pace with changing entry-level skill and knowledge requirements. But the lower 50 percent are slowly losing ground — and are very expensive to train. Among high school graduates, the top few percent from the best schools have adequate skills for some entry-level work, but the rest are rapidly falling behind.”

A summary of articles follows:

A DECADE OF CHANGE IN NEW ENGLAND’S LABOR MARKET • Paul E. Harrington and Andrew M. Sum of Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies note that despite increasing pressures on college graduates, a New Englander with an associate degree can expect to earn 25 percent more than a counterpart with a high school diploma only. A bachelor’s degree recipient can expect to earn 60 percent more than a high school graduate.

HIGHER EDUCATION AND THE WORKFORCE: WHAT IS THE LINK IN THE NEW NEW ECONOMY? • Ralph Whitehead Jr., a journalism professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, explores the changed value of a four-year degree and asks: “What share of our scarce resources should be used to achieve a modest increase in the percentage of college graduates? What share should be directed toward vocational education, apprenticeships and other programs to aid the remaining two-thirds of the nation’s workforce?”

TO GET A GOOD JOB … • Frederick S. Breimyer, vice president and chief economist at State Street Bank and Trust Co., writes that health care reform may be followed by efforts to revamp pensions and improve retraining for workers in transition. He notes: “Displaced individuals … often seek assistance from a broad variety of public and private sources. So far, the response has not met the need, however, and pressures for more support are likely to continue to grow.”

FORGING A PARTNERSHIP FOR ECONOMIC GROWTH IN NEW HAMPSHIRE As New Hampshire’s economic advantages evaporated and the state suffered prolonged economic hardships, private and public leaders acknowledged that state government must play an important, albeit limited, role in economic development. Ross Gittell and colleagues at the University of New Hampshire’s Whittemore School of Business and Economics trace the formation of the New Hampshire Industry Group.

HIGH-QUALITY WORKERS: OUR DISTINCTIVE NATURAL RESOURCE • John C. Rennie, the chairman and chief executive officer of Pacer Systems Inc., and founder of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, suggests ways to bolster New England’s educated workforce. Among Rennie’s recommendations: overhaul vocational-technical education to reflect new workforce realities; give teachers more exposure to the workplace; and encourage companies to support education through school-business partnerships, advocacy for education in community and business groups, and adoption of company policies such as requesting grade transcripts from job applicants and allowing employees time off for parent-teacher meetings.

NEW ENGLAND IS CHOOSING HIGH SKILLS • Eleanor M. McMahon, a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Brown University and former Commissioner of Higher Education in Rhode Island explains why the Clinton administration national school-to-work initiative may bear the markings of state programs already underway in New England, and how they are beginning to give non-college bound students a practical choice beyond the unstructured “general studies” curricula to which they have traditionally been relegated.

ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION PROGRAMS THRIVE: BUT HOW BEST TO PREPARE GREEN PROFESSIONALS? CONNECTION Assistant Editor Julie Lanza compares popular approaches to environmental studies and finds interdisciplinary programs still find little security at liberal arts colleges, especially when budgets are tight.

R&D AND THE NEW ENGLAND ECONOMY: FEEDBACK • Technology policy expert Harvey Brooks of Harvard University, disputes the notion that more R&D dollars will guarantee a stronger regional economy. “One must understand in much more detail what is in the “black box” of R&D — and even of advanced education — in order to predict when R&D is capable of conferring a regional competitive advantage,” Brooks writes. University of Massachusetts-Lowell Chancellor William T. Hogan explains how the university’s sharply focused mission and organizational structure has led to rapid growth in R&D support. Former Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Thomas P. O’Neill III, discusses the impact of defense cuts on New England’s research economy.

EXAMINING THE TRUST IN TRUSTEE • William T. O’Hara, president emeritus of Bryant College, proposes a variety of steps to safeguard public trust in higher education ranging from adoption of conflict-of-interest policies to establishment of trustee ethics committees. O’Hara, who in 1991 chaired the Rhode Island Governor’s Ethics Task Force, warns: “Report after report of administrative and academic shenanigans has fostered a public suspicion of those serving in our institutions of higher education. Furthermore, there are increasing signs that the public is calling into question the role of those who hold the ultimate responsibility for the integrity of our colleges and universities — the trustees.”

FINANCING PUBLIC SCHOOLS • CONNECTION reports on the state of public school support in New England, and notes that Americans on average devote 4.6 cents of each dollar they earn to public schools. Rhode Islanders devote 4.3 cents per dollar of personal income, while New Hampshirites provide 4.2 cents per dollar. Massachusetts residents direct a paltry 3.7 cents of every dollar of personal income to public schools.

IT’S PRIMARY CARE, STUPID! • Former Maine state representative and author Neil Rolde explores how health care reform may impact New England’s medical schools. To counter the incentives that steer medical school graduates toward lucrative specialties, Rolde recommends that institutions: give admissions preference to students who want to devote themselves to family care; arrange for students to train with primary care doctors and in community health centers, rather than in high-tech hospitals; and encourage students to work in interdisciplinary teams with other health providers, such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

REGIONALISM: ALL ABOARD • James P. RePass, president and CEO of the Northeast Corridor Initiative, traces the evolution of the regional nonprofit group that is trying to bring high-speed rail to the United States, beginning in the Northeast.

MINORITY DEGREES: STILL DISMAL • CONNECTION reports on which New England institutions posted the greatest improvement in the share of their bachelor’s degrees awarded to members of minority groups. At the region’s 50 largest colleges and universities — which accounted for four out of five of New England’s minority bachelor degree recipients — progress has been mixed. From 1985 to 1990, the share of bachelor’s degrees going to African-Americans rose at just 26 of the 50 largest institutions; the Hispanic representation increased at 31 of the campuses; and the Asian-American share grew at 40.

EXCERPTS: Former Boston Herald reporter Michael J. Bennett reflects on the impact of the GI Bill 50 years after its passage. U.S. Rep. Gerry E. Studds of Massachusetts promotes environmental exports. James Lichtenberg, vice president and director of the Higher Education Division of the Association of American Publishers, explains why reading will become a less dominant method of transferring information.

SEVEN YEARS OF CONNECTION • CONNECTION presents its seven-year index of articles.


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