OUR OPINION: Workforce challenges ahead

By NEMS Daily Journal

Gov. Haley Barbour’s speech Wednesday in Tupelo for a CDF-sponsored forum was candid and disturbing in its assessment of the challenges immediately confronting our state.
Barbour’s most pressing concerns, not surprisingly, revolve around education adequacy related to economic growth and competitiveness.
He cited journalist and futurist Tom Friedman, the New York Times foreign affairs columnist, and his new book, “That Used to Be Us.”
“As usual, Friedman was brilliant, provocative and alarming in his assessment of the information technology revolution and of globalization; not only on the world and U.S. economies but on individual Americans,” Barbour noted.
“At one point he cited an innovation technology entrepreneur as saying, ‘Productivity increases kill jobs.’ Since innovation and technology are the main drivers of productivity gains in America, and those productivity increases are necessary to keep U.S. businesses competitive in the global economy, Friedman’s well-thought out analysis was deeply concerning, as it is all too plausible.”
Barbour then wove a complex, compelling and direct linkage involving Friedman’s terminology, Mississippians’ work ethic, and the urgency of educating for the future.
“People came here to work, excited about the opportunity to work and better themselves. The chance to work brought them to America, and made them and their descendants Americans. Regrettably, last month only 64 percent of adult Americans were either working or seeking a job. This is the lowest percentage since before women entered the workforce in large numbers decades ago. In Mississippi, even fewer – 60 percent – are working or seeking a job,” he noted.
It is urgent, he said, for Mississippians to rediscover at a basic level the work ethic and educational adequacy.
The urgency of this problem becomes clearer placed in front of the rising generation:
“If education is critical for today’s worker, it is becoming more and more critical, at a faster and faster pace. ‘Productivity increases’ do kill jobs, just as Friedman said. And those increases are happening at an ever faster rate. Our current problem of too many dropouts is harmful today to those individuals who dropped out. … Innovation and technology drive productivity increases; they will not wait for us. We need a sense of urgency; especially families need a sense of urgency, to give their children a fighting chance. But I beg you to realize: if too few young people finish school and acquire work skills, not only will those people fail; the community won’t be able to attract good jobs. The progress of three generations would be reversed, then lost.”
The governor’s speech defined what should become his successor’s agenda.