The Transient Knowledge Trap: Page 2

Our society and economy cannot afford to lose basic skills -- yet that is exactly what we are allowing to happen, our Datamation columnist writes.
Posted September 21, 2006

George Spafford

George Spafford

(Page 2 of 2)

We have let our educational systems deteriorate and our corporate interests lie so much in the short-term that many either do not train at all and hire for skills or train employees purely on transient skills that have a relatively short value life. For example, sending people to focused technology training that may not be needed by the organization in five years or with diminished to marketability if the person leaves to seek employment elsewhere without updating.

Within organizations that hire for skills -- meaning they buy people with the skills they need -- and then fail to continue to develop the employees, people will realize what is happening. The best employees will leave rather than let their marketability languish -- and once the word gets into the market, new hires are apt to avoid the employer altogether.

For employers who do train and develop employees, that is a great thing because practically any training is better than no training. Even training on transients is preferable to nothing as certain foundational knowledge can still be inferred.

From a macroeconomic perspective, the primary danger to society of an over-emphasis on transient-based skills is that, as the underlying knowledge and skill base deteriorates, innovation will suffer. Employers will move work to other parts of the world where innovation flourishes in the bountiful soil of knowledge. In the meantime, the country with the over-emphasis on transient knowledge will watch its economic lead suffer first, military might plummet second and then fall into a gray twilight of either being a former superpower or of never being one at all.

We, as a society, need to recognize the urgent need for education and development of our people. We need to spur education and training. Why, for example, can’t money invested in training not only be a tax write-off of one-to-one, but actually be a multiplier such as: “For every $1 spent in training we will allow a $2 discount in taxes.”

Of course, such a proposal would run into a political minefield, but stop and strongly consider the alternative: In the future there may be such a train wreck of an economy and society that there is an economic collapse. It brings us to a very simple inescapable truth: An an economy without adequate investments in education is not sustainable.

Make no mistake about it, education is fundamental. Our companies need it. Our municipalities and countries need it and at the absolute foundation of it all, our people need it.

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