Transcript of "Global hr forum2009-roger_hill-ready for work in the 21st century-it's a life-long process[full paper]"
Ready for Work in the 21st Century? It's a Life-long Process
Roger B. Hill, Ph.D.
University of Georgia
The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman (2006), a bestselling book in the United States, has raised
the awareness of many readers about the significant impact of recent innovations in information and
transportation systems on ways of doing business in the 21 st century. Freidman used layman's terms
and vivid illustrations to explain the eras of increasing development of world trade that he refers to
as Globalization 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0. Globalization 1.0, a period of time from approximately 1492 until
1820, was characterized by countries that practiced imperialism, and sought to obtain power and
natural resources through exploration and colonization.
Globalization 2.0, extending from the early 1800's until the year 2000, was a period during which
companies became prominent in the process of expanding influence and power. The development of
multi-national corporations took place during this time span and companies established their
influence and presence in multiple locations around the globe for purposes of expanding their
markets and tapping more economical sources of labor for their production operations.
Friedman used the term Globalization 3.0 to describe the present era and he has portrayed this time
as one where individuals and small groups can for the first time in history be influential and
significant in the process of spreading commerce beyond the boundaries of one's own country or
region. He also points out that this era is not being built exclusively by a group of white, Western
individuals but that people from all over the world are able to participate as a result of the
technologies that have been developed.
There are several key innovations that Freidman points out as factors in the development of
individual and small group globalization capacity. Among these are the capability of individuals to
create digital content, the impact of the dot.com boom in making worldwide communication
available and inexpensive, the development of common protocols and a resultant workflow
revolution, and the capacity of individuals to upload content for worldwide consumption. The
convergence of these capabilities at the advent of the 21st century precipitated the era Friedman has
labeled Globalization 3.0.
Rapid development of digital electronics technologies has provided an ever expanding capability for
individuals to create digital content. Initially it was the personal computer that provided this
capability but today a wide array of devices is readily available to create original media materials
including digital recorders, digital cameras, digital video camcorders, and cellular telephones. In
each of these categories, expansion of capabilities and reductions in cost and size has grown
exponentially over the past decade. As a result, creation of original digital content is commonplace
and proliferating for both personal and professional use.
The end of the twentieth century was characterized by tremendous optimism and high levels of
investment in Internet-related companies. Stocks and venture capital investments were yielding
huge gains and there was significant corporate development of technology infrastructure. This
included the installation of fiber optic transmission cables and other hardware necessary for
transmission of digital communications on a worldwide scale. When the markets began to decline in
March of 2000, and continued to devalue over the following years, many companies no longer were
able to sustain operations and some of them either failed or were merged with or purchased by other
companies. What remained, however, was a significant over-building of digital communications
capacity and this resulted in significant reductions on costs to communicate on a global scale.
During the 1990’s, personal computers were becoming common in offices and business settings, but
compatibility of both software as well as local and wide area network communications were not
necessarily compatible. As a result, computers and computer information systems were limited in
being able to communicate across systems. Internet protocols such as TCP/IP and increased ability
to read computer files across hardware and operating system platforms became increasingly
prevalent as the 21st century began. Programming languages such as Java, using a common byte
code and a customized virtual machine to execute that code, have enhanced cross-platform
As the creation of digital content became increasingly commonplace, communication costs were
reduced as a result of excess capacity, and compatibility issues diminished, individual uploading of
digital content has become commonplace. From YouTube to Wikipedia, Facebook to Skype, the
sharing of original content has become prevalent and pervasive. As an example, people are using
Twitter to have real-time dialogue in church (Rochman, 2009) and they are earning money by
tweeting advertisements (Gregory, 2009) . These digital sharing and communication resources used
in the private sector are mirrored by the commercial and sometimes proprietary information systems
used by the business and corporate world, but the capabilities and the potential are there for
individuals and small groups to enter the competition.
Global transportation systems were already prevalent as changes occurred in the communication
systems sector, but inexpensive global communications systems have transformed the value and
utility of transportations systems. The ability to track transport of products and coordinate
destinations for maximum efficiency along with efforts to locate transportation hubs near centers for
manufacturing and shipping has provided worldwide transportation that makes delivery from
factory door to consumer more feasible than ever before. This further enhances the ability of
individuals or small groups of people who desire to participate in a global business enterprise and
provides new ways of doing business for corporate enterprises of all sizes.
In addition to the events, trends, and innovations that have created inexpensive global
communications and transportation capacity, the changes that have taken place in China, the former
Soviet empire, and India have added new dimensions to the global competitive environment
(Prestowitz, 2005). Even with only a small portion, perhaps 10 percent, of the population
participating, the number of additional people able to participate in global business enterprises is
perhaps twice the size of the workforce of the United States.
The challenges and opportunities created by changes in information and transportation systems have
been recognized by corporate leaders and corporate entities have quickly implemented cost savings
and more efficient ways of doing business that tap the potential of these innovations. The public
sector, however, has not fully recognized the significance of these resources and workforce
development at all levels is needed to inform and adequately prepare workers to be thoughtful
participants within this new global environment.
Theories of adult and career development have been recognized as a foundational issue within the
field of Human Resource Development (HRD) for decades. In most instances, development of
personal and organizational skills, knowledge, and abilities that HRD is concerned with occurs with
adult workers and employees. Understanding how stages of human development interact with
efforts to conduct employee training, career development, performance management and
development, and organizational development is critical to successfully implementing HRD
strategies. The underlying premise that people go through various life stages when certain issues are
being negotiated is a typical component of stage development theory. In life, adults typically deal
with issues of independence and establishing a career during their twenties, with establishing a
family unit in their thirties, with maturing careers in their forties, with accomplishment of life goals
or lack thereof in their fifties, with end of career issues in their sixties, and with balance of leisure,
income, and health issues in their seventies and beyond.
Woven through these periods of human development are various facets of career development.
There has been significant flux in the typical events that characterize career development as jobs
have become less permanent, and the nature of work itself has changed. Work in the 21 st century
tends, over time, to involve positions with different companies, shifts in job responsibilities, and
significant need for ongoing professional development, particularly in careers where technology is a
core skill. Lifelong learning has become the norm and acquisition of new skills is an ongoing
process for most people. As a result, taking responsibility for one’s own learning processes,
demonstrating initiative to determine what is needed, and being able to locate and process
information are all essential elements in successfully negotiating career opportunities.
One constant within the flux of necessary professional development is the need for a strong work
ethic. Work ethic encompasses providing an honest return for wages earned. Key attributes that
comprise work ethic as it is expressed in the workplace are dependability, initiative, and
interpersonal skills (Hill, 2004). These affective elements are universally needed, but are sometimes
missing or deficient in workers. As a result, employees miss work or fail to notify supervisors of
changes in their schedule, are limited in their capacity to identify needed tasks, or have difficulty
working with others in teams or committees. Furthermore, HRD professionals can find it more
challenging to deal with these issues as compared to preparing workers with a new cognitive or
psychomotor job skill. Work ethic is largely shaped during the early years of life and it is
challenging to address in adults who have developed work habits over an extended period of time.
One strategy for dealing with both the need for 21st century job skills as well as good work habits is
demonstrated by the Work Ready program being implemented by the state of Georgia in the United
States. Georgia is one of 23 identified states that have initiated some type of Career Readiness
Certificate. The program in Georgia was begun in August 2006 by Governor Sonny Perdue and the
Georgia Chamber of Commerce. It is administered by the Governor’s Office of Workforce
The Work Ready program in Georgia has two thrusts – documentation that a worker meets a
minimum set of skill and education standards and the development of job profiles that worker skills
can be matched to. To evaluate workers, a validated job assessment is used to measure applied
mathematics, reading for information, locating information, and work habits. The certificate issued
to workers is based on the lowest score achieved on the three job skills assessments and they are
identified from lowest to highest as Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. Assessments are
administered by the technical college system through their economic development offices. The
colleges manage the online assessments, provide access to skills gap training, and offer job profiling
The Georgia Work Ready program was originally implemented by 24 of the 159 counties in the
state. In 2008 the program was enhanced through the formation of Work Ready Regions and seven
clusters of counties were identified to enhance the effectiveness of the initiative. These regions were
northwest Georgia for automotive advanced manufacturing, western central Georgia for aerospace
advanced manufacturing, middle Georgia for aerospace advanced manufacturing, middle Georgia
for advanced manufacturing, eastern Georgia for logistics, distribution and warehousing, western
Georgia for automotive advanced manufacturing, and northeast Georgia for bioscience. Each region
was provided a $500,000 grant to assist in increasing the skill level of its workforce. Specifically,
the funding was intended to increase the number of individuals in the workforce holding a Work
Ready Certificate, ensure that each county in the region earned Certified Work Ready Community
status, encourage local employers to complete Work Ready job profiles, and provide specialized
training for the existing workforce.
Participants in the Georgia Work Ready initiative are provided with a color-coded analysis of the
results of the assessments of applied mathematics, reading for information, locating information,
and work habits. This report identifies strengths that employers value, areas for improvement, and
items that need to be changed or improved for a person to be a viable 21 st century worker.
Outcomes include helping participants to better understand skills needed for a “knowledge based
workforce,” recognizing the connection between education and work, identifying needed skills gap
training, and supporting higher rates of graduation from high school within Work Ready
Communities. Achieving level 5 scores for applied mathematics and reading for information
correlate to college readiness without remediation.
By using the technical college system to administer the assessments, additional training to assist in
preparing for 21 st century jobs can be readily provided. The Technical College System of Georgia
consists of 28 technical colleges with two university system technical divisions and 31 satellite
campuses. The system provides a wide variety of career development opportunities including
certificate, diploma, and associate degree programs. Continuing education, professional
development, and targeted workforce development initiatives are also provided.
Skills gap training and continued lifelong learning are two facets of working in a "knowledge
based" position in a "Globalization 3.0" world. Although lifelong learning and continued
professional development have been a part of the world of work for a number of years, the pace of
change has significantly increased during the past decade. Whether preparing to work with the latest
technology for manufacturing or the newest software being used for financial accounting and
forecasting, the need for learning in the 21 st century workplace is continuous and HRD professionals
must utilize an array of resources to meet the workforce development needs they are responsible for.
In the state of Georgia, the technical colleges are a significant resource to aid in this process, and
affiliating theme with the Work Ready initiative allows them to be leveraged in an efficient and
For the 70,641 Georgians who had completed the Work Ready assessment process by July 2009,
18,825 (27%) Bronze, 36,815 (52%) Silver, 14,301 (20%) Gold, and 700 (1%) Platinum certificates
were awarded. These levels were 50% higher than the national average for Platinum and 2% higher
for Gold (D. Lyons, personal communication, September 22, 2009). Data also shows that Work
Ready certificate holders are increasingly finding employment. Measured in 5-month increments
ending in February through July of 2009, the number of unemployed Work Ready Certified workers
finding employment showed an increasing trend line.
Figure 1. Work Ready Employment Trends
Participants in the Georgia Work Ready program hold a favorable perception of the program after
completing the steps necessary to become Work Ready Certified. Data gathered by the Governor's
Office of Workforce Development (D. Lyons, personal communication, September 22, 2009)
showed that when Work Ready certificate holders were asked whether they would recommend the
Work Ready initiative to others, 64% replied definitely yes, 29% probably yes, 4% probably no, and
3% definitely no. For certificate holders who were employed, 82% agreed with the statement that
the Work Ready certificate "helped me know what employers are looking for," 69% agreed that it
"gives me an advantage of other applicants," 61% agreed with the statement "gave me confidence to
find a job," and 59% agreed that it "opened doors in a job search."
Data from employers shows similar support for the program. In a survey of overall perceptions, the
Office of Workforce Development found that of businesses using the Georgia Work Ready program
90% would recommend it to others, 2% said they would not recommend it, and 8% did not know or
did not reply. These companies further reported that the Work Ready program helped the company
to "find higher quality employees" with 78% responding yes, that it helped them "save money" with
52% replying yes, and that it "reduces employee turnover" with 41% replying yes.
In data collected from individual companies (Governor's Office of Workforce Development, 2009)
Advanced Steel Technology in Rome, Georgia reported a reduction in the need to terminate
employees due to skill or performance during the probationary period as a result of participating in
the Work Ready program. In addition, they realized a drop in defect rate from 1.25 percent to .08
percent. This improvement in performance was the result of having trained workers who could
perform at the levels necessary for their jobs, one of the objectives the Work Ready program seeks
Covidian, a healthcare products manufacturer in Macon, Georgia, credited the Work Ready program
with helping to improve selection of employees as well as providing guidance for training and
development. They cited a greater than 200 percent improvement in their team-based technician
training program since implementing use of the Work Ready initiative (Governor's Office of
Workforce Development, 2009).
Emerson, a global manufacturing and technology company, has a plant located in LaGrange,
Georgia that has participated in the Work Ready program. Previously they reported that hiring was
a very "hit or miss" process with high turnover rates and production delays due to employees having
to learn new skills. Implementing the Work Ready program and using job profiles matched with
employee assessment data allowed them to better select and place new employees. Prior to
implementing the Work Ready and skills training programs the Emerson plant was averaging
$60,000 per month in scrap generated in their production processes, but after putting these changes
in place the scrap output was reduced to $20,000 per month (Governor's Office of Workforce
There are states in addition to Georgia in the United States that have programs to issue work ready
or career ready certificates of some type and additional states are investigating the costs and benefits
of such an initiative. Some of these programs are well developed and implemented statewide and
others are local or regional in nature. Results of research to identify those programs with Web-based
resources describing the programs are included in the table provided below. One clear conclusion
that can be drawn from examining the states that are implementing or work ready or career ready
initiatives is that this is seen as a viable mechanism to enhance workforce and economic
development in the United States.
Table 1. States with Online Resources for Work Ready or Career Ready Initiatives
North Carolina http://www.crcnc.com/
South Carolina http://www.workreadysc.com/
Assessments associated with work ready or career ready initiatives provide HRD professional with
data to identify gaps in the work skills and work attitudes that are needed for success in the
workplace. Beyond that, however, workforce development professionals are exploring other
strategies to better prepare workers for the jobs of today as well as those that do not yet exist. One
of the more promising areas of work in the United States is increased interest and emphasis on
engineering and engineering design as a strategy for solving real-world problems. Particularly
within the educational systems of the United States, this movement is beginning to gain traction.
The premise is that exposing all students to the ways engineers approach problem solving would be
beneficial and would enhance technological literacy.
The benefits of technological literacy include improving decision making, increasing citizen
participation, supporting a modern workforce, narrowing the digital divide, and enhancing social
well-being (Pearson and Young, 2002). Recognition that the citizens of the United States are
generally lacking in high levels of technological literacy has resulted in calls for increased emphasis
on study of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) over the past several years.
Research in this area has included an overview of technological literacy assessment strategies for
use with school children as well as with adults (Garmire and Pearson, 2006). While this work could
inform HRD professionals in accessing current and prospective employees with regard to their
general preparation for a participation in a technological workplace, the work ready assessments
already employed perform that task in an adequate and efficient manner. The greater need is for
guidance in developing professional development and learning opportunities to address deficiencies
in work skills needed.
One new initiative that is in the formative stages in Georgia is the development of a teacher
professional development workshop to equip K-12 educators to integrate hands-on engineering
design problems into K-12 instructional programs. Katehi, Pearson, and Feder (2009) have provided
an overview and analysis of similar initiatives across the United States, but the program in Georgia
will build on research completed at the University of Georgia in conjunction with the National
Science Foundation funded National Center for Engineering and Technology Education. A key
finding from this research has been the importance of including analytical components as a part of
problem solving activities (Asunda and Hill, 2008; Hill, 2006). Providing students opportunities to
apply mathematics to real world problems as they predict the success or failure of structures,
mechanisms, or biological systems provides meaning that is otherwise difficult to achieve. The
workshop that is being proposed would, over time, prepare a significant number of teachers to use
engineering design problems in their instructional programs and would enhance the development of
technologically literate citizens in the state.
In considering what relevance these issues might have for HRD professionals who are primarily
concerned with working adults, there are two facets that are apparent. First, there are significant
opportunities for an interface between business and industry representatives and educators as well
as their students. Teachers need the guidance of engineers, managers, technicians, operators, and
other persons from the world of work if they are to provide students with a realistic picture of the
real-world applications of the content they are charged with teaching. In addition, opportunities to
visit work environments can greatly enhance both the competence of teachers as well as the learning
opportunities for students. These activities would ultimately benefit corporate and business partners
as students were better prepared to take their place within society and the workplace.
Another aspect of the move to incorporate engineering design into K-12 instruction that is relevant
to HRD professionals is the use of instructional strategies and learning theories being developed in
school settings to enhance workplace education and training. The use of hands-on, project-based
activities as a strategy for contextualizing instruction has applications beyond the walls of the
school. Defined as "a systematic teaching method that engages students in learning knowledge and
skills through an extended inquiry process structured around complex, authentic questions and
carefully designed products and tasks" by Markham, Larmer, and Ravitz (2003), a project-based
approach has much to offer over traditional, lecture-based instruction.
In the case of adult learners, providing real connections to the workplace; challenging them to
consider authentic, complex problems; and recognizing the significance of the social context in
which learning occurs is important for increasing the effectiveness of instruction. Jobs of the 21 st
century typically include not only complexity, but also working with others in teams. Recognizing
and including this dynamic in the planning of instruction is important. Whether introducing a
situation where a person with "an attitude" is a part of the dynamic or dealing with deficiencies in
work ethic attributes of initiative or dependability, problems used by HRD practitioners need to go
beyond an exclusive focus on technical content.
One issue that is a challenge to HRD professionals is the changing dynamic of younger generations
of workers. While many of the aspects of lifelong learning and stages of adult development
continue to be important, "digital natives" bring inherent characteristics that are different from those
of "digital immigrants." The current generation entering the workforce, if raised in a developed
nation, has never known a time when computers and video games were not prevalent, is often adept
at coordinating high rates of multi-media sensory input with control systems involving high levels
of manual dexterity, is accustomed to having immediate access to a variety of communications
channels, and often manages multi-tasking and selective attention in ways that are different from
When placed in traditional work environments, these young workers are sometimes prone to be
initially attracted to the work, but then rapidly lose interest and become unreliable or disillusioned.
Furthermore, the attributes displayed appear to be lack of a strong work ethic and constantly
shifting interest in work. When training is provided to these incoming employees, a significant
investment is involved, and loss of these workers when they become disengaged and move on to
other employment is a tremendous drain on a company’s resources. What is needed is a
combination of job redesign, improved employee selection and job matching, workforce
development, and effective management strategies. In all of these issues, HRD professionals can
contribute to the process.
By creating participatory environments, organizations can provide opportunities for employees to
participate in job redesign that makes work more interesting and engaging while also sometimes
becoming more efficient. With younger workers, the use of electronic social networking systems
can provide new opportunities to provide input and suggestions, and help to create a sense of
participation and belonging. Strategies such as those being used with work ready programs can
provide needed resources for effective employee selection and job matching. Online instructional
management systems, face-to-face classes, and hybrid learning opportunities provide a broad array
of methods for providing ongoing workforce development and learning support. HRD professional
can also enhance management practices by serving as a conduit for recommendations and as
mediators for concerns or disagreements. All of these hinge on adequate support from
organizational decision makers, but HRD professionals need to be prepared to educate persons both
above and below them on the organizational chart about the roles they can play in enhancing
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