America’s education system is not adequately preparing its students for the workforce. According to ManpowerGroup, the US labor shortage hovers at 75%, amounting to three out of four employers unable to find qualified employees.
Employers blame the shortage partly on a lack of technical skills—the most needed being technology, data, and engineering. However, they also say the upcoming workforce lacks vital soft skills, including self-discipline, creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, and resilience.
“Nearly 100 years of research points to 20 key soft skills that set students up for success,” observes Dr. Tom Reed, co-founder of America’s School. “Yet, the vast majority of US schools are not intentional enough early enough about teaching these skills to kids.”
Why America’s work shortage crisis can no longer be ignored
America is in the midst of a national crisis, fighting what experts call “the Chip War” — and, according to many industry experts, is losing. Computer chips, or semiconductors, are essential to the US economy and national security. Cell phones, fighter jets, and traffic lights all depend on these minuscule devices. Technology propels the nation’s innovation, productivity, and prosperity, and computer chips drive that technology.
Only one entirely US-owned company is capable of making computer chips because the main US workforce pipeline, its school system, is not preparing enough students to fill the positions. By 2030, analysts predict a scarcity of 1.4 million US tech workers and a shortage of 67,000 in the semiconductor industry alone.
Tracing the work shortage back to the classroom
According to Dr. Reed, a lack of national unity and collective purpose is the greatest roadblock to preparing America’s students. With the US Constitution silent on education, the 10th Amendment leaves the responsibility to individual states. Not surprisingly, educational policy varies widely when it comes to how states procure revenue, expend resources, credential educators, choose curriculum, and perform assessments.
“The US model is contrary to almost every other developed country,” Dr. Reed remarks. “Our system comprises over 13,000 independent school boards, while nearly every Western European country only has one. Local control is viable in peacetime, but during times of crisis, we need a scalable, replicable, and reliable system for every school-aged child. America’s School is not here to diminish or replace local schools but to complement traditional schooling by leveraging technology.”
By every metric, assessments point to waves of US workers who are less prepared than their global competitors. “We are over-confident, overly content, and increasingly complacent about our standing in the world,” Dr. Reed observes. “Currently, we are educating the fifth generation of students that have never known the US to be anything but a global superpower. Even today’s teachers have never known any other reality. Naturally, they assume it will always be so.”
Dr. Reed points out how Chinese universities produce far more STEM PhDs than US institutions, and trends indicate the gap is growing. In fact, by 2025, the number of Chinese STEM PhDs will nearly double US STEM graduate students.
Additionally, the most recent Program for International Student Assessment shows US Math scores plummeting by 13 points to hit an all-time low. While China did not participate in this PISA test, its students ranked number one in 2018, while US students ranked 13th. US education leaders, teachers, and policymakers often rationalize these scores by saying, “Our students know the PISA test doesn’t matter to their grade. That is why they don’t try.”
“While our PISA scores may be the result of a lack of effort, not trying on the test is likely symptomatic of a more concerning problem — lack of national pride,” Dr. Reed notes. “The numbers show that, from elementary school to grad school, American students are no longer the world’s smartest, hardest working, or patriotic. We won’t reverse this trend if we continue to rely on an education system that fails to prepare our kids, our communities, and our country for success.”
How America’s School prevents students from falling behind
In 2021, Heroic Game Day launched as a gamification platform for a handful of summer enrichment programs in Ohio. Today, over 10,000 students across the nation log on to play.
America’s School invests in Heroic Game Day’s online gaming to teach in-demand workforce skills, replicate relevant learning experiences, and prepare every student for the workforce. For example, in an early technology element, first-grade kids set out on a Minecraft-like mission to mine the sand they need to make a semiconductor, then carry it back to the factory and melt it down to produce silicon.
Not only does Heroic Game Day teach six-year-olds to build the chips America needs, but it also develops 20 critical soft skills like collaboration and teamwork. The multiplayer game encourages students to share strategies and work together as they learn.
Gamification can promise educational outcomes because it makes classroom learning relevant. “When students take what they are learning in the classroom and apply it in the game to earn points and coins,” added Dr. Reed, “they are motivated to learn.”
Progress data shows that students who play Heroic Game Day just 20-30 minutes a day score better on state reading and math assessments and show greater academic progress than those who do not. “We did not design a game to explicitly teach reading and math,” says Dr. Reed. “We designed a game to teach executive functioning skills like problem-solving, persistence, decision-making, distraction management, and self-control. Spend just 10 minutes in a classroom where students are logged into Heroic Game Day, and you will see students helping each other and discussing what they learned. The learning is infectious.”
With Egypt, Greece, Rome, France, Spain, Germany, and Great Britain all representing superpowers whose influence waned over time, the US must address the signs of its impending fall. “A solution is clear,” concludes Dr. Reed. “Universal workforce development starting in elementary school is the new American imperative, and America’s School provides the means to make it happen.”
About the Author: Marcy Paulson is a full-time writer based in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She’s been featuring her clients’ stories for eight years and still can’t wait for the next interview. When she’s not near a keyboard, you’ll either find her picking guitar with her husband in their old-time string band, paddling the Tennessee River, or hiking through the Appalachian foothills with their kids.
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