My apologies to those of you have never heard this clever ditty. For those of you whose cultural upbringing cheated them of being exposed to this cultural statement, I recommend listening to it. You might have noticed the mention of a proverbial hickory stick as part of the process, I am not sure the physics lessons I learned in school were administered with hickory paddles, but they were manufactured out of hard enough wood that they impressed me with their tenacity for results. I digress, but I think you get the point – or perhaps the point of contact.
Education has been front and center in our community in the last few days, mostly because of political disagreements that have been boiling in all sorts of issues surrounding our current state of societal discontent. While the politics churn, however, business remains pretty clear about what it needs from our education system. If you guessed a competent, dedicated workforce, you are correct. According to US News and World Report, Wyoming schools (K-12) rank 25th out of the 50 states. I guess 25th out of 50 is not exactly bad, but in today’s environment of intense competition it’s not exactly an indicator of a place that is going to win the talent attraction war that will define winners and losers in the next decade.
What does business say about education? Kids need to learn the basics, they need soft skills (I always think about soft skills as people skills, not sure we are doing stellar at this as adults), basic math, science and financial literacy. It is really unfortunate that, according to leaders and laggards report, Wyoming gets an F for rigor. The future engineers that will design the planes you fly in, work on the water plants where you will get your water, and the folks who will be taking care of your healthcare are coming out of a system that is woefully lacking. The U.S. Chamber has reports on state-by state rankings.
Business community, if you are feeling self-righteous about now and saying I told you so – Don’t! The solution to future workforce demands that you play a major role in its execution. If Wyoming business is not ready to step up in unique ways to better the situation, then the chance of a stronger workforce in the future is highly unlikely.
I attended a conference last week with business leaders from across the nation. I am convinced that there are going to be significant winners and losers in this nation related to their ability to cultivate and attract talent. The question for Cheyenne, Laramie County and Wyoming is whether or not we desire to be a national leader and known as a shining star for talent development, or we are ok to be just ok. I believe in our people and their hope for the future, but unless we take this seriously the sting is going to be as real as the aforementioned physics lesson – although in Wyoming it is more likely to be made of cottonwood or beetle killed pine.