Service Economy and Technological Change Will Require New Skills, Experts Predict
Washington--By the 1990's, advancements in technology and the nation's shift from an industrial to a service-oriented economy will require many more skills from the average worker than are currently required.
More than half of all American workers then will be handling or processing information, participants at a conference here last month on the future of the labor force were told. And employers will require not only that workers have the ability to think critically and to manipulate data, but also that larger numbers of their employees have those skills.
Such fundamental shifts in the nature of work have implications for schools, speak-ers noted. Educators, they said, must begin now to reassess the current educational system and to develop new curricula that will reflect the needs of the marketplace. But while the reassessment will not be easy, at least education is a "politically safe" area to be concerned with, one speaker told the conferees.
Projections of economic experts nationwide suggest that employment opportunities in service-producing industries, such as health care, trade, and education, will continue to exceed those available in manufacturing, farming, mining, and construction, said Roy H. Forbes, director of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Already, more than two-thirds of the nation's workers are employed in service-related occupations, a trend the experts predict will grow.
"Some economic experts believe that the country's shift from an industrial to a service- and consumer-oriented economy has already happened," he noted. "Others believe that it is still taking place," Mr. Forbes told the group of about 100 educators attending the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development's National Curriculum Study Institute.
The challenge presented by that shift, he said, is the preparation of students for jobs in a high-technology society.
The migration of many manufacturing businesses from the U.S. to Korea and Taiwan, the mechanization of farms, and the development of robots have greatly influenced the employment outlook in this country, according to Marvin Cetron, an economic forecaster who is president of Forecasting International Ltd.
As a result, there will be an across-the-board demand for technicians, according to Mr. Cetron, who is also the co-author of a recently published book entitled Encounters with the Future: A Forecast of Life In the 21st Century.
The emerging employment pattern does not mean that there will be no workers in industrial or agricul-tural settings, Mr. Forbes said. But, he added, since the majority of the nation's workers will be working with information, educators "must seek new approaches to educating people for that setting."
"We're going to have to redefine basic skills for students entering high-technology occupations that will require high-order skills," Mr. Forbes said.
In doing so, said Mr. Forbes, the education community will have to modify the present delivery system; develop new curriculum materials; and establish training and support programs for teachers.
Curriculum materials developed for gifted students are available, Mr. Forbes said, but there is still "a great need to develop new methods" of assessing students' skill levels.
But teacher-training and support programs will be the most critical element if the efforts are to succeed. "It's not that teachers don't have the skills we've asked them to have," he said. "It's that they have not been trained in the new expectations."