Economists define “structural unemployment” as job openings going unfilled amidst a sea of unqualified applicants. That is in part what we’re seeing today. A McKinsey Institute survey found that 40 percent of firms have had job openings for six months or more that they can’t fill. Others estimate that America’s 9.1 percent unemployment rate would be 8 percent—12 percent lower—if such jobs could be filled.
The “mismatch” between available jobs and job skills is attributable to a K-12 education system that is incapable of anticipating and producing skills that businesses need. In pursuit of skilled workers, businesses outsource jobs, import foreign labor, or call for more money to be dumped into a failed education system.
What almost no businesses do is to grow their own labor supply by getting into the education business.
It’s easy to do in states that have charter school laws. Businesses (or nonprofit groups they create) can easily start schools that produce the skills they need—whether it’s technical training, math, engineering, or foreign languages. Companies could achieve economies of scale by providing teachers from their workforces and school facilities from their physical plants. Students would benefit from learning practical skills and gaining access to valuable work experience. Most important, the schools would have a strong incentive to provide a quality education.
Why should we expect educational bureaucracies, composed largely of people who have never held private-sector jobs, to be able to produce a 21st-century workforce? Our ability to compete in the world economy requires American private industry get in the trenches and shape the future of education. Policies championed by the Goldwater Institute—such as charter schools and education savings accounts—provide the flexibility to adapt K-12 education to changing technology, the talents of individual students, and the needs of a dynamic economy.
Clint Bolick is director of the Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation.
Goldwater Institute: Education Savings Accounts: Giving Parents Control of Their Children’s Education
McKinsey Global Institute: An Economy that Works: Job Creation and America's Future