Congress needs to set a national agenda to equip Americans with the skills to compete globally, Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus and panelists at a Council on Competitiveness event said Wednesday.
They called for U.S. policymakers and the private sector to leverage untapped opportunities, particularly in the service economy.
The briefing coincided with the release of a report by the Council that advocates for the abandonment of stereotypes associated with low-skill, low-wage jobs in the service economy. According to the paper, more than three-quarters of all U.S. jobs are in the service economy and are driving demand for complex skill sets like problem solving, communications, entrepreneurship, computational analysis, and collaboration.
The new global economy conjures images of competition in European, Chinese and Indian markets, Baucus said, but for the Montana Democrat, America's picture of economic success "lies a little closer to home."
"It is the view not from an information superhighway, but from our country's back roads," like his state's Highway 93, which links machinists, scientists and steelworkers, he said.
"We can do more to invest in our workforce and make training available to our workers. We can do more to be creative and innovative. We can do more to think about what the competitiveness of our economy and our workers should look like five and 10 years down the road," he said. Challenges posed by globalization and technological change require new workforce strategies, he added.
To that end, Baucus and Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, introduced a bill in July to extend for five years the trade adjustment assistance program that supports workers, firms and farmers impacted by the global expansion of the U.S. economy.
That effort should be broadened to encompass the service industry, he said, proposing a doubling of the amount of retraining funds available "for the jobs of the 21st century economy."
Council President Deborah Wince Smith called for a national "innovation imperative" and comprehensive plans for building "skills for sustainability" at the event, which also featured talks by former Lockheed Martin Chairman Norm Augustine; Lansing Community College President Judith Cardenas; Skill TV founder Joel Leonard, and James Spohrer, director of Almaden Service Research at IBM.
This article appears in the May 3, 2008, edition of NJ Daily.