The Age of Mediocrity

Posted: Feb 06, 2012 12:01 AM
A couple of days ago President Obama held an online town hall gathering, and a woman presented a question about why her engineer husband was still unemployed after three years. Seeing low hanging fruit, President Obama asked for the resume to see what he could do and opined it seemed odd as that niche of the economy is doing well. He's right, that niche of the economy is not only booming, but it is the future. For all the talk about controlling wind mills and sunrays, the most prosperous nations on the planet will be those with the most scientists, technicians, engineers and math professionals.

American kids are being left in the dust on this, and that was the perfect platform for the president to make a clarion call to the nation. Instead he's going to help one guy get a gig in an industry where up to a couple of million are available. For all the nonsense about building a community college on
Question of the Day

Are our kids being coddled so much they aren't tough enough to fill the jobs of tomorrow in the STEM space? If so what can be done to fix this?

Heck, are they tough enough to do lower-paying jobs, or should we just let illegal immigrants perform those task?

Post your answer below
every corner and forcing businesses to pay high school grads like those possessing bachelors or even more advanced degrees, we need to build an army right now. I understand we are in the age of mediocrity, which can be rationalized for the stock market and even be good enough to win elections, but it's not good enough to win the day.

When I was growing up in Harlem, I was accepted to a few special high schools including the High School of Art and Design. The school is the best high school in the world for art and artist and boasts alumni like Ralph Baski and Calvin Klein. I decided to accept and attended the school, which was in a different world from the bombed out lots and burned empty buildings I was accustomed to. In fact, the school is located in the Sutton Place neck of Manhattan, which is where old money still resides. Across the street from my school were a Rolls Royce dealership and a Ferrari dealership. The entire neighborhood reeked of money. It was very intimidating.

When I passed the entire test (art test and other exams), my dream was to become an architect, but I was soon talked out of that because it would cost so much money that I knew we couldn't afford. I still love architecture and can only wonder.

Fast forward to a recent survey of students from sixth to twelfth grade, and we also see kids discouraged from seeking certain careers. According to ASQ, these students felt jobs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) offer the most job opportunities. Yet, 67% are unsure if they would pursue such careers due to numerous challenges, chief among them cost and time to get a degree.

* 26% felt cost and difficulty of pursuing professionally qualifying education was too high compared to other fields.
* 25% felt these career paths were too challenging and involved too much studying.
* 25% stated their grades in math and science aren't good enough to pursue these careers.
* 53% of parents worried about the challenges their children would encounter pursuing these careers.
* 26% of parents feel teachers were not preparing children well enough for STEM jobs.
* 33% of girls feel teachers are not preparing them enough for STEM jobs.

Our children are intimidated by the excellence needed to get these amazing jobs. They love Dr. Dre headphones, but don't know that an engineer started the company and makes the really big bucks at Monster. Today, the world is abuzz over the IPO from Face book, another business built by geeks. Yes, it takes more work to go through school and learn how to be an engineer than stumble upon reality show star status, but it's worth it.

Everywhere around the world
They're coming to America
Every time that flag's unfurled
They're coming to America

Got a dream to take them there
They're coming to America
Got a dream they've come to share
They're coming to America
-Neil Diamond

The woman that was pleading with President Obama suggested the US was allowing too many foreigners in with engineering degrees, and they are taking American jobs. That would be counter to the desperate pleas from Silicon Valley CEOs that there aren't enough qualified people for the jobs available. The idea these are simply ordained for Americans even when Americans don't possesses the skills falls into a political trap, and that generates anger; yet, it is flawed in economics and the real world. Either those jobs get filled in America or they go overseas.

We are a nation of immigrants, and I want the smartest people from around the world coming to America. They still are, and many are heading non-stop to great jobs that are too much work and study for our kids.

According to the Population Reference Bureau, foreigners are beginning to dominate the STEM jobs market.

* In 1994 there were 6.2 U.S.-born workers in science and engineering for every foreign-born worker.
* In 2006 the ratio decreased to 3.1 to 1.0 U.S.-born to foreign.
* In the U.S. foreign-born entrepreneurs helped to start one-fourth of all American engineering and technology businesses established between 1995 and 2005 - including GOOG and EBAY.
* In Silicon Valley one-half of business start-ups involved a foreign-born scientist or engineer.
* 40% of U.S. doctoral degrees in science and engineering when to foreign-born students.

It's not about xenophobia and protectionism but about stepping up to the plate. I hate the idea of kids giving up before they start because they think achieving a dream is too expensive, but the idea of them simply not trying because it's too hard is worrisome. Yet on the other end of the spectrum is the idea that few Americans of any age are willing to do real grunt work. In Alabama there was a period after the illegal immigrants fled when a lot of stuff like cleaning catfish wasn't performed. It's not about the lazy American in this case or the snotty American but the comfortable American that can make ... err ... get as much money visiting their mailbox twice a week.

"If you want to encourage something, reward it. If you want to discourage it, punish it."

I find it amazing we are leaning toward becoming a nation that punishes success but rewards sloth. Sure, there is legitimate misery and hardship, yet interwoven in that mix is the idea people can hold out for the right job and sustain themselves on the taxpayer dime until the moment/job is right. But nobody is angry at lazy people, and there is the suggestion that nobody in the nation is at fault for losing their jobs, buying a home too large or not having the education required to get a good job. And nobody is being called out for lack of hustle. The nation is encouraging contentment and punishing desire that leads to hard work.

How can it be that on the upper end of the educational spectrum more than a million jobs are begging and yet on the lower end of that same spectrum the same thing is occurring as well? A coalition of business groups in Kansas have begun a new program to help some illegal immigrants remain in their state and hold down jobs in agriculture and other industries. Yes, there is a labor shortage! The same kind of program kicks off in Utah next year where illegal immigrants get a waiver from the U.S Department of Homeland Security to work fields and do menial labor. But there is talk of also helping with things like roofing and construction, too.

This is amazing stuff. Even the Kansas Chamber of Commerce is part of this coalition. Kansas enjoys an unemployment rate of 5.9%, with some parts of the state at 4.0%, but that still means lots of people are able to work - if they want to.