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In today’s economy, education must be a lifelong thing

Today, the Star Tribune carries the story of Ohio man Herbie Mays. A long time 3M employee,

Mays’ last day at 3M was in March. Bent on cutting costs and refocusing its portfolio, the company decided to close the plant that made bandages, knee braces and other health care supplies and move work to its plant in Mexico.

At 62, Mays is unemployed and wants to work, though on the face of it he has plenty of opportunities. Barely 10 miles from his ranch-style brick home in this blue-collar city, GE Aviation has been expanding — and hiring.

In the state-of-the-art laboratory in a World War II-era building the size of 27 football fields, workers use breakthrough technology to build jet engines that run on less fuel at higher temperatures. Bright flashes flare out as GE workers run tests with a robotic arm that can withstand 2,000 degrees (1,090 Celsius).

The open jobs there are among 30,000 manufacturing positions available across Ohio. But Mays, like many of Ohio’s unemployed, doesn’t have the needed skills.

“If you don’t keep up with the times,” he said, “you’re out of luck.”

The Industrial Revolution spins on

Arguably, the economy moves faster today than it ever has before. The Industrial Revolution keeps speeding up. The Harvard Business Review gives this example

Consider, for example, graphic designers. Until recently, almost all graphic designers designed for print. Then came the Internet and demand grew for web designers. Then came smartphones and demand grew for mobile designers. Designers had to keep up with new technologies and new standards that are still changing rapidly. A few years ago they needed to know Flash; now they need to know HTML5 instead. New specialties emerged such as user-interaction specialists and information architects. At the same time, business models in publishing have changed rapidly.

Given this pace of change, the skills you leave high school with are likely to be obsolete by the time you are halfway through your working life. Unless workers are going to be left behind by technological change, learning needs to become a lifelong thing with people in their 30s and 40s looking to master the newest skills. And policy, at the national and state level, should be designed to help that. The notion that you finish education at the end of High School or on graduation needs to go into the dustbin of history.

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment.

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