1860 and the Challenges of the Future (Part II)
Why should the United States invest more heavily in its “human infrastructure”?
- By paying more attention to promoting international education in our schools, we are promoting America's business interests, social interests and cultural interests.
- It is our mission to help prepare people for a world that is coming closer together — through trade and otherwise.
- While we have a wealth of information at our command today, complexity and uncertainty also have increased greatly.
- In the area of engineering alone, the United States ranks 17th in producing new talent. As an engineer inspired by the Sputnik shock, this concerns me.
In the first part of my essay, I explained that at UPS, we look for employees with six core traits, including trade literacy, cultural sensitivity and adaptability, and foreign language skills.
The fourth trait we look for in people to help us with our international business is technology skills. In the area of engineering alone, the United States ranks 17th in producing new talent.
As an engineer inspired by the Sputnik shock, this concerns me. We have over 10,000 engineers at UPS — and that demand will only increase in the coming years.
New technologies, new competitors and disruptive business models are accelerating at a furious pace. These kinds of forces, compounded on a global level, are also why we look for people who can manage complexity and uncertainty.
The fifth trait we look for is people who can learn how to learn. And while we have a wealth of information at our command today, complexity and uncertainty also have increased greatly.
That’s also why we want to make it possible for people to have six or more different jobs in the course of a career at UPS. In fact, we think it’s the key to our management longevity, which we consider a distinct competitive advantage.
Today, the average UPS manager has been with the company over 16 years and has had at least six different assignments — many of them international-related assignments.
Being able to manage complexity and learning how to learn is a trait we will always value.
One of the great attributes of a liberal arts education is preparing people to learn how to learn. So we absolutely believe that traditional liberal arts educations still have an important role to play in American society.
Another tradition that has never been more important to the United States as it engages in a global marketplace is ethical behavior, which is the sixth trait we look for in our people. We need to make sure that the foundations of ethics are grounded in students long before they reach the collegiate level.
Just how much these six traits matter was brought home to me in a powerful way when I talked about these ideas to a group of teachers from around the nation a while ago. After I finished my remarks on what kind of employees we are looking for at UPS, several of the educators in attendance got up and said that they agreed wholeheartedly.
They were concerned, however, that — as much as they agreed with my skills assessment and as confident as they felt about schools being able to educate their student in that vein — various standardized tests and other rigidities in the curriculum left them very little leeway for doing so.
Neither I nor these teachers are proposing that schools should focus single-mindedly on churning out corporate worker bees.
But at the same time, as a father, citizen and someone who cares deeply about global trade, global prosperity and global harmony, I feel it is our mission to help prepare people for a world that is coming closer together — through trade and otherwise.
At the core of our current challenge is the need to change the way in which we teach the next generations of Americans. In many ways, that work has only just begun — for business, government, educators, parents and students alike.
All of these groups play a big part in helping us — as a society and a nation, as an economy and as companies — in succeeding in this complex, challenging, invigorating and opportunity-rich world of change.
By paying more attention to promoting international education in our schools, as all of us should, we are in fact promoting America’s business interests, social interests and cultural interests. Abraham Lincoln would expect no less from all of us.
Editor’s note: The first part of this story can be found by clicking the following link – 1860 and the Challenges of the Future Part I