Journal of Technology Education

Journal of Technology Education

Current Editor: Chris Merrill,
Previous Editors: Mark Sanders 1989-1997; James LaPorte: 1997-2010

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Volume 2, Number 2
Spring 1991

               Productivity, the Workforce, and Technology Education
                                       Scott D. Johnson
                              While the United States premier leader 
                         in industrial strength and in-
                         fluence, countries previously unable to com-
                         pete with the United States in both
                         technological and economic arenas have made
                         drastic changes in the way they develop and
                         produce goods.  Through modernization of
                         their factories and by using innovative or-
                         ganizational systems, these so called non-
                         industrial countries have begun to compete
                         with the industrial giants on their own turf.
                         New competition from countries such as Japan,
                         Korea, and Brazil is having a dramatic impact
                         on the economic, political, and educational
                         systems within the United States.  Examples
                         of the results from this new competition in-
                         clude rising trade deficits, an increasing
                         budget deficit, slow productivity growth,
                         stagnant real wages, and a declining share of
                         world markets (Young, 1988).  All of these
                         trends constitute a threat to the American
                         standard of living.  Unless changes are made
                         to increase the competitive ability of the
                         United States on economic and technological
                         grounds, the quality of life in this country
                         is certain to fall.
                              In response to the competitiveness prob-
                         lem, this country must strive to develop a
                         highly skilled, adaptable workforce that de-
                         velops and uses technology.  This effort
                         would result in a renewed competitive advan-
                         tage through improved technologies and inno-
                         vative, creative, and highly educated
                         workers; something which may be the United
                         States' biggest strength.  This approach is
                         not without its drawbacks.  New technologies
                         are likely to replace many workers which
                         could result in higher unemployment.  Ad-
                         vances in technology could also lead to a de-
                         skilling of the workforce which may result in
                         a wider gap between the workers who develop
                         new technologies and those who use them.
                              To return the United States to its for-
                         mer competitive status, improvements must oc-
                         cur in the productivity of the workforce.
                         Technology education has a unique role to
                         play in improving the productivity of the fu-
                         ture workforce (Technology Education Advisory
                         Council, 1988).  In addition to providing
                         students with the opportunity to interact
                         with technological systems and processes,
                         technology education reinforces the content
                         learned in other curricular areas and en-
                         hances higher order thinking skills.  Before
                         expanding on the role of technology education
                         in improving the productivity of the future
                         workforce, an examination of the productivity
                         issue and the impact of technology on the
                         workforce is needed.
                               IMPROVING WORKFORCE PRODUCTIVITY
                              The United States must improve its level
                         of productivity in order to become more com-
                         petitive.  It has been said that productivity
                         is the main determinant of trends in living
                         standards (Hatsopoulos, Krugman, & Summers,
                         1988).  Therefore, if Americans are to con-
                         tinue enjoying their high standard of living,
                         they will have to find ways to continually
                         increase their own productivity.  Recent evi-
                         dence shows that competitors have been able
                         to increase their productivity at a much
                         faster rate than the U. S. For example, the
                         U. S. was ranked below eleven of its compet-
                         itors in productivity growth from 1973
                         through 1979 and from 1981 through 1985
                         (Berger, 1987; Klein, 1988).  While the sta-
                         tistics point out weaknesses, all is not
                         lost.  After the dismal years of the 1970s
                         and early 1980s, U. S. companies have shown
                         productivity improvements in recent years.
                         In 1985, the U. S. had the second highest
                         growth in productivity among the twelve lead-
                         ing industrial countries with a 5.1% increase
                         and in 1986 had the highest productivity
                         growth at 3.7% (Klein, 1988).
                              While the recent improvements are en-
                         couraging, efforts must be made to ensure
                         that these improvements in productivity con-
                         tinue.  There are three primary ways to im-
                         prove productivity:  (a) through the
                         development of new technologies, (b) through
                         increased capital expenditures, and (c)
                         through education and training.
                         OF NEW TECHNOLOGIES
                              Eighty percent of the U. S. productivity
                         growth can be attributed to technological in-
                         novation (Young, 1988).  A strong research
                         and development effort is needed to ensure
                         that new innovations are forthcoming.  With-
                         out research and development expenditures, it
                         is doubtful that significant innovations can
                         be developed.  While the U. S.  has been suc-
                         cessful in developing new technologies in the
                         past, it not likely to continue to be suc-
                         cessful if current trends continue.  Business
                         and government expenditures for civilian re-
                         search and development are a smaller propor-
                         tion of the economy in the U. S. than in
                         other developed countries (Berger, 1987).  A
                         continued commitment and support for research
                         and development must be made if the U. S. is
                         to maintain its leadership in the development
                         of technological innovations.
                         TAL EXPENDITURES
                              While the development of technology is a
                         key to productivity growth, the technology is
                         worthless unless it is actually used.  A pri-
                         mary reason the U. S. has lost its compet-
                         itive advantage in the steel and automobile
                         industries is because those industries have
                         been slow to realize that modern facilities,
                         new equipment, and innovative organizational
                         strategies are needed to keep up with the
                         rest of the world.  In recent years, U. S.
                         competitors have been tooling up with modern
                         facilities that incorporate the latest tech-
                         nologies and strategies such as robotics,
                         computer-integrated manufacturing, just-in-
                         time manufacturing, and the Japanese philoso-
                         phy of Kaizen.  At the same time, U. S. steel
                         and automotive industries were trying to
                         produce goods in antiquated facilities with
                         pre-World War II technologies and traditional
                         authoritative management strategies.  The re-
                         sult of the unwillingness of these U. S. in-
                         dustries to expend the necessary capital to
                         build new facilities and to acquire new tech-
                         nologies has been a decreased share of world
                         markets, increased layoffs, and reduced pro-
                         fit margins.  As an example of the discrep-
                         ancy between U. S. capital expenditures and
                         those of Japan, the Japanese spend 50% - 100%
                         more per employee on capital than the U. S.
                         To compound the problem, U. S. capital costs
                         50% - 75% more than Japanese capital
                         (Hatsopoulos, Krugman, & Summers, 1988).  On
                         a positive note, the recent surge in produc-
                         tivity in the U. S. can be partially attri-
                         buted to the willingness of companies to
                         begin investing in new capital.
                              As stated by the PRESIDENT'S COMMISSION
                         ON INDUSTRIAL COMPETITIVENESS (1985), this
                         country has failed to develop its human re-
                         sources as well as other nations.  This prob-
                         lem becomes evident when comparing our
                         educational system with those of other coun-
                         tries.  Only 70% of the students in American
                         schools successfully complete high school
                         while 98% of Japanese students complete high
                         school (Jonas, 1987).  The recent plethora of
                         national reports that focus on educational
                         reform further support the need for strength-
                         ening America's educational systems (Carnegie
                         Forum, 1986; National Commission on Secondary
                         Vocational Education, 1984; Parnell, 1985).
                              Even if the U. S. is able to continue
                         developing new technologies and makes the
                         capital expenditures necessary to utilize
                         those developments, great improvements in
                         productivity will be unlikely unless workers
                         have the level of education and skill needed
                         to handle the advanced technologies (Berger,
                         1987).  In response to this need, educational
                         programs at the secondary and post-secondary
                         levels need to identify the knowledge and
                         skills that will be needed by the future
                         workforce to successfully work with and main-
                         tain the advanced technologies and develop
                         appropriate delivery systems for the teaching
                         of the new content.
                              There are several views regarding tech-
                         nological advancement and its effect on the
                         workforce (Naylor, 1985; Rumberger, 1984).
                         One view is that technological advances will
                         be the primary source of new jobs in the fu-
                         ture.  People read and hear about new jobs
                         being created in the areas of robotics, com-
                         puters, lasers, and optics.  A common belief
                         is that jobs in these areas are completely
                         new and will result in job opportunities for
                         a great many workers.  The second view is
                         that advanced technologies will vastly up-
                         grade the skill requirements of future jobs.
                         Advances in technology are believed to make
                         jobs much more complex and therefore, will
                         require higher level skills in the future.  A
                         third view is that the development of new
                         technologies will result in the displacement
                         of massive numbers of workers.  The develop-
                         ment of robotics and automated processes is
                         viewed as a means to eliminate the human
                         worker from the labor force.
                              It is true that technology is having a
                         definite effect on the nature and character-
                         istics of the workforce.  New occupations are
                         being created while traditional occupations
                         are being changed or eliminated.  The workers
                         that fill these changing occupations must up-
                         date their knowledge and skills to remain
                              A wider variety of skills are now needed
                         by the workforce.  The diversity of occupa-
                         tions has increased to the point where work-
                         ers must do things that were once performed
                         by many different individuals.  Future work-
                         ers still need to have specific technical
                         skills.  However, employers are beginning to
                         want their new employees to have better basic
                         skills.  Basic skills enhance workers' abili-
                         ties to learn new information and techniques
                         and will make the future workforce more
                         adaptable as advances in technology further
                         changes the workplace.
                              It is evident that technology is having
                         a significant impact on the workforce.  How-
                         ever, the true nature of that impact is un-
                         clear.  Are the above views accurate or are
                         they only myths?  The following discussion
                         describes some of the impacts of technology
                         on the workforce and presents the uncertain-
                         ties that exist regarding the changes that
                         will occur in the
                              The impact of technology on future occu-
                         pations is unclear.  Will the advances in
                         technology result in more high technology re-
                         lated jobs or will there be an increase in the
                         number of low technology related jobs?  The
                         answer to this question is critical to the
                         economic and social well being of this country.
                         To identify the actual impact of technology on
                         future occupations, it is necessary to examine
                         the various views that currently exist.
                              VIEW 1:  ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY JOBS ARE
                         GROWING AT A RAPID RATE.  One view regarding
                         job growth says that technology-related jobs
                         are growing at a significant rate.  Based on
                         Bureau of Labor statistics, the fastest grow-
                         ing occupations are in advanced technology
                         areas.  As shown in Table 1, eight of the ten
                         fastest growing occupations may be classified
                         as "high technology" occupations (Kutscher,
                         1987).  These fast growing occupations in-
                         clude technicians, engineers, operators, and
                         repairers.  As a result of this information,
                         it would appear that advanced technologies
                         will be the primary source of new jobs in the
                         future.  In fact, numerous secondary and
                         post-secondary schools are using this infor-
                         mation to develop courses in robotics, CAD,
                         CAM, lasers, and computers.
                         TABLE 1
                                                          Change in  Percent of
                                                  Percent   Total       Total
                         Occupation               Change  Employment Job Growth
                         Computer Service Techs.     97      53,000      0.21
                         Legal Assistants            94      43,000      0.17
                         Comp. Systems Analysts      85     217,000      0.85
                         Computer Programmers        77     205,000      0.80
                         Computer Operators          76     160,000      0.63
                         Office Machine Repairer     72      40,000      0.16
                         Physical Therapy Asst.      68      26,000      0.09
                         Electrical Engineers        65     209,000      0.82
                         Civil Eng. Technicians      64      23,000      0.09
                         Peripheral Elect. Operators 64      31,000      0.12
                         NOTE:  Adapted from "Impact of Technology on
                         Employment in the United States" by R.
                         Kutscher, in THE FUTURE IMPACT OF TECHNOLOGY
                         ON WORK AND EDUCATION (p. 48), G. Burke and
                         R. W.  Rumberger (Eds.), 1987, Philadelphia,
                         PA: The Falmer Press, Taylor & Francis.
                              However, describing job growth in per-
                         centage terms does not paint a true picture
                         of the impact of technology on the growth of
                         occupations in the future.  A closer examina-
                         tion of Table 1 shows that while the fastest
                         growing occupations are growing at a high
                         rate, they will result in relatively few
                         jobs.  For example, the fastest growing occu-
                         pation in percentage terms is computer ser-
                         vice technicians.  While this occupation is
                         growing at a fantastic 97% rate, it accounts
                         for less than 1/4th of 1 percent of the total
                         projected job growth.  In fact, the ten fast-
                         est growing occupations in percentage terms
                         account for less than 4% of the total job
                         growth. Based on this low percentage of the
                         total job growth, technology educators, par-
                         ticularly at the upper secondary and post-
                         secondary levels, must be careful when
                         planning to develop new programs which are
                         oriented towards these "fast growing" ad-
                         vanced technology occupations.  It is possi-
                         ble that many of these new jobs will be
                         filled without the need for numerous advanced
                         technology programs.  In fact, current data
                         suggests that there are more graduates of ad-
                         vanced technology programs than positions
                         available (Grubb, 1984; Naylor, 1985).  Con-
                         tinued growth in enrollments may compound
                         that problem.
                              VIEW 2:  LOW TECH JOBS ARE GROWING AT A
                         RAPID RATE.  A second view regarding the im-
                         pact of technology on job growth suggests
                         that advances in technology will result in an
                         increase in low technology-related jobs.
                         This view is in direct contrast to the first
                         view.  Based on Bureau of Labor statistics,
                         the fastest growing occupations are not in
                         advanced technology areas.  As shown in Table
                         2, the majority of the ten fastest growing
                         occupations (in absolute terms) are not in
                         advanced technology areas (Kutscher, 1987).
                         For example, the fastest growing occupation
                         in absolute terms is building custodians.
                         While that occupation certainly changes as
                         technology advances, it is not considered a
                         "high tech" occupation.  Advanced technology
                         occupations are those that require an in
                         depth knowledge of the theories and princi-
                         ples of science, engineering, and mathematics
                         that underlie technology.  This definition
                         includes engineers, scientists, mathematical
                         specialists, engineering and science techni-
                         cians, and computer specialists (Rumberger &
                         Levin, 1985).  Note that while the occupa-
                         tions listed in Table 2 are not growing at a
                         high percentage rate, they do account for a
                         great number of jobs.  In fact, these ten
                         fast growing occupations will account for al-
                         most 25% of the total job growth in the fu-
                              It is true that advanced technology oc-
                         cupations are growing at a rapid rate al-
                         though the impact of that growth is less
                         significant because of the small number of
                         actual jobs that are created.  One reason for
                         the inability of advanced technology occupa-
                         tions to create a large number of jobs is be-
                         cause of the potential of technology to
                         reduce the need for workers.  Automated sys-
                         tems are being developed that are able to re-
                         organize traditional production processes.
                         The change from individual machines to com-
                         plete manufacturing systems has enabled em-
                         ployers to reduce the number of workers while
                         increasing productivity.  For example, the
                         TABLE 2
                                                     Change inPercent
                                              Percent  Total   Total
                         Occupation            ChangeEmployment Job
                         Building Custodians    27.5 779,000    3.0
                         Cashiers               47.5 744,000    2.9
                         Secretaries            29.5 719,000    2.8
                         General Office Clerks  29.6 696,000    2.7
                         Sales Clerks           23.5 685,000    2.7
                         Registered Nurse       48.9 642,000    2.5
                         Waiter & Waitresses    33.8 562,000    2.2
                         Teachers               37.4 511,000    2.0
                         Truck drivers          26.5 425,000    1.7
                         Nursing Aides &
                         Orderlies              34.5 423,000    1.7
                         NOTE: Adapted from "Impact of Technology on
                         Employment in the United States" by R.
                         Kutscher, in THE FUTURE IMPACT OF TECHNOLOGY
                         ON WORK AND EDUCATION (p. 47), G. Burke and
                         R. W.  Rumberger (Eds.), 1987, Philadelphia,
                         PA: The Falmer Press, Taylor & Francis, Inc.
                         gration of a robotic welder into the auto in-
                         dustry replaces two to three human welders
                         and achieves productivity gains that range
                         from 5:1 to as high as 20:1.
                              Based on the above discussion, it should
                         be clear that technology does impact the
                         total growth of occupations.  Advanced tech-
                         nology occupations are growing at a high rate
                         yet they are a small fraction of the total
                         job growth.  While low technology occupations
                         are not growing at as fast a rate, they con-
                         tribute to a greater percentage of total job
                         growth.  Because it is possible to interpret
                         job growth in different ways, technology edu-
                         cators must use caution when determining
                         whether or not to emphasize advanced technol-
                         ogies in their curriculum.  Clearly, attempt-
                         ing to justify technology education programs
                         that emphasize advanced technologies solely
                         because of high percentage job growth statis-
                         tics may be a mistake.
                              Technology will also have an impact on
                         the skill requirements needed for ALL jobs at
                         ALL levels (Rumberger, 1984).  As occupa-
                         tional skill requirements change as a result
                         of technology, the education and training
                         needed by future and existing workers must
                         also change.  However, are the skill require-
                         ments increasing or decreasing as a result of
                         the advances in technology?  The answer to
                         this question may have a great impact on the
                         content and delivery of technology education
                              The literature identifies three differ-
                         ent views regarding the impact of technology
                         on skill requirements.  Each of these views
                         will be examined as they relate to technology
                         education curriculum and instruction.
                              VIEW 1:  ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY CREATES A
                         JOBS.  The first view suggests that advances
                         in technology will create a wider gap between
                         the high skill level jobs and the low skill
                         level jobs (Nettle, 1986; Rumberger, 1984)
                         which may result in a bi-modal distribution
                         of the workforce (Grubb, 1984).  Figure 1
                         graphically shows the potential distribution
                         of occupations based on skill levels if this
                         view is true.
                         FIGURE 1.  Distribution of worker skill lev-
                              This view is built on the premise that
                         technology creates a need for highly trained
                         and educated workers to design, develop, and
                         maintain the new technologies.  These indi-
                         viduals will require some type of college de-
                         gree which will increase the need for workers
                         with M.A.'s and Ph.D.'s in technical areas.
                         On the other end of the skill continuum are a
                         great number of low skilled, low paid workers
                         who have little need for training.  This bi-
                         modal distribution is thought to be made up
                         of 80% semi skilled or unskilled workers and
                         only 20% highly skilled workers (Nettle,
                              VIEW 2:  ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY CREATES
                         The second view suggests that advances in
                         technology creates jobs at both the high and
                         middle skill levels (Grubb, 1984).  Data col-
                         lected for high technology and conventional
                         manufacturing sectors in Texas clearly show
                         that the occupational distribution of ad-
                         vanced technology manufacturing is NOT bi-
                         modal.  Figure 2 graphically shows the
                         occupational distribution between high tech-
                         nology and conventional manufacturing indus-
                         tries based on 1980 Census data.  As
                         suggested in the first view, the need for
                         high skill levels increases as advanced tech-
                         nology is incorporated.  However, in contrast
                         to the first view, Figure 2 also shows that
                         the need for middle level skills increases as
                         technology is incorporated.
                         FIGURE 2.  Manufacturing occupational dis-
                         NOTE: Graph developed from data in "The Band-
                         wagon Once More: Vocational Preparation for
                         High-Tech Occupations" by W. N.  Grubb, 1984,
                         HARVARD EDUCATIONAL REVIEW, 54, p. 435.  Cop-
                         yright 1984 by President and Fellows of
                         Harvard College.
                              While the above data is from one state
                         in one primary industry, the data does cor-
                         roborate with national data from the Bureau
                         of Labor Statistics (Grubb, 1984).  Advanced
                         technology sectors do hire more technicians
                         and computer specialists.  In addition, the
                         projected growth in middle to high skill
                         level technician jobs are higher in most high
                         tech industries than in conventional indus-
                         tries.  This is especially true in the health
                         and information technology fields where more
                         technicians are being used to perform very
                         specific tasks, thus freeing the professional
                         to monitor technicians and to perform other
                              As low skill level assemblers are re-
                         placed by middle skill level technicians, the
                         amount of training needed to obtain the
                         higher skill level positions will increase.
                         Figure 3 shows the difference in the amount
                         of education needed by the workforce in con-
                         ventional and high technology manufacturing
                         industries.  An increased demand for educa-
                         tion at the post-secondary level can be
                         projected as technology is integrated into
                         the private sector.
                              VIEW 3:  ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY DECREASES
                         WORKFORCE.  The third view suggests that ad-
                         vances in technology will actually decrease
                         the overall skill requirements needed by the
                         workforce (Bartel & Lichtenberg, 1987;
                         Faddis, Ashley, & Abram, 1982; Rumberger,
                         1984, 1987).  While the characteristics of
                         future jobs will likely change, the overall
                         skill requirements are expected to decrease.
                         A general assumption
                         FIGURE 3.  Post-secondary educational levels
                         needed by future workers.
                         NOTE:  Graph developed from data in "The
                         Bandwagon Once More:  Vocational Preparation
                         for High-Tech Occupations" by W. N. Grubb,
                         1984, HARVARD EDUCATIONAL REVIEW, 54, p. 435.
                         Copyright 1984 by President and Fellows of
                         Harvard College.
                         regarding the impact of technology on skill
                         requirements is that as technology advances,
                         the skills needed to work with technology
                         also increase.  This view appears to be de-
                         veloped as a result of interaction with the
                         technological world.  For example, many peo-
                         ple believe that a computerized word
                         processor is a highly technical tool that is
                         much more complex than the manual or electric
                         typewriters with which they are comfortable.
                         Another example involves the many backyard
                         mechanics who at one time were able to repair
                         their own automobiles.  Because of the ad-
                         vances in technology, these mechanically in-
                         clined individuals are having considerable
                         difficulty comprehending the new technolog-
                         ical systems found in late model vehicles.
                              As technology advances it certainly ap-
                         pears as though the skill requirements needed
                         to work with those technologies also in-
                         crease.  This statement is only partly true.
                         Research indicates that the impact of tech-
                         nology on worker skill requirements is very
                         different from the general assumption (see
                         Figure 4).  While the skill requirements do
                         increase initially, as a technology is fur-
                         ther developed and refined, the skill re-
                         quirements needed to use that technology
                         actually decrease.  An example of this phe-
                         nomenon is the computer.  When the computer
                         was originally invented, it was a very com-
                         plex machine that was difficult to use.  Fol-
                         lowing the development of technologies that
                         lead to the production of transistors and
                         then integrated circuits, the computer became
                         a smaller, more powerful machine that was im-
                         mensely more complex than the original com-
                         puter.  However, while the computer became
                         much more advanced, it also became more "user
                         friendly."  Refinements in computer technol-
                         ogy have led to the development of a machine
                         that is relatively easy to use.  The trend to
                         simplify the use of equipment results in a
                         deskilling of the workforce because the tech-
                         nology reduces the need for much of the men-
                         tal and physical work needed to conduct daily
                         work tasks.  Other examples of this deskill-
                         ing phenomenon can be found in computer pro-
                         gramming, automated production, printing,
                         clerical work, and machining.
                         FIGURE 4.  Impact of technology on worker
                         NOTE:  Adapted from "The Relationship of In-
                         creasing Automation to Skill Requirements" by
                         J. R. Bright, in TECHNOLOGY AND THE AMERICAN
                         ECONOMY, National Commission on Technology,
                         Automation, and Economic Progress, 1966,
                         Washington, DC: US Government Printing Of-
                              These three views present differing
                         projections of the impact of technology on
                         the skill requirements of the workforce.
                         First, technology has resulted in a decrease
                         in the skill requirements of some jobs.  Sec-
                         ond, technology has resulted in an increase
                         in the skill requirements of other jobs.
                         Overall, however, it appears as though there
                         has been little change in the AVERAGE skill
                         requirements of jobs.  In a recent study of
                         200 individual case studies, Flynn (1985)
                         found that while some workers' skill require-
                         ments have been upgraded, other workers'
                         skill requirements have been downgraded.  It
                         appears as though the overall effect of tech-
                         nology on the skill requirements is small.
                         On an individual basis, however, the effect
                         of technology on skill requirements appears
                         to be quite drastic.
                                    WORKFORCE PRODUCTIVITY
                              As previously discussed, it is critical
                         that productivity increase in order to regain
                         a competitive advantage in the global market-
                         place.  The problem of increasing productiv-
                         ity is compounded by the ever changing
                         workplace in which a knowledgeable and
                         skilled workforce is needed to adapt to new
                         technological processes.  The recent trends
                         in technology and the workplace suggest that
                         the secondary school curriculum needs modifi-
                         cation in order to equip students with the
                         knowledge and skills needed to be successful.
                         For example, the most effective and efficient
                         method of preparing the future workforce may
                         no longer include vocational education's tra-
                         ditional emphasis on specific technical job
                         skills.  Because of the rapid and complex
                         changes in technological knowledge and skill,
                         the specific technical job skills taught in
                         many secondary vocational programs are obso-
                         lete when vocational graduates enter the
                         workforce.  While specific technical job
                         skills will always be needed, they are no
                         longer a sufficient condition for employment.
                              What role can technology education play
                         in improving the competitive advantage of the
                         United States?  A well designed and delivered
                         technology education curriculum will be able
                         to enhance future workforce productivity be-
                         cause it (a) is well suited to reinforce what
                         students have learned in other curricular
                         areas, (b) is ideal for enhancing cognitive
                         process abilities, and (c) promotes active
                         involvement with technology.
                         ULAR AREAS
                              A major goal of technology education is
                         to provide students with the knowledge,
                         skills, and attitudes needed to become pro-
                         ductive citizens in a highly technological
                         and ever changing society.  As a result of
                         the recent advances in technology and the
                         changes that are occurring in the workplace,
                         there should be an increased emphasis on
                         transferable, basic skills.  Future workers
                         need to have solid reading, writing, and com-
                         putational skills.  Because technology educa-
                         tion offers students the opportunity to learn
                         and apply subject matter from a variety of
                         disciplines in realistic settings, it is well
                         suited to reinforce the general knowledge and
                         skills that are becoming increasingly impor-
                         tant.  Technology education teachers, by the
                         very nature of their subject matter, incorpo-
                         rate reading, writing, mathematics, science,
                         and social studies content into their
                         courses.  By emphasizing generic skills, aca-
                         demic content, and basic technical skills,
                         technology education students will have the
                         opportunity to gain the skills that are
                         needed to keep up with the rapid changes in
                         society and the workplace.
                              Since 1985, several state and national
                         reports have appeared which suggest what
                         skills and competencies will be needed by the
                         future workforce.  These reports have gained
                         a great deal of national attention and seem
                         to be adding fuel to the education reform
                         movement of the 1980s.  Because these reports
                         were developed with industry, government, and
                         education involvement, they have the poten-
                         tial to significantly impact the secondary
                         school curriculum.
                              The state and national workforce
                         projection reports discuss the changes that
                         are occurring in the workplace and identify
                         the skills and competencies needed by the
                         worker of the future.  These desired skills
                         and competencies can be summarized into fif-
                         teen categories (Johnson, Foster, &
                         Satchwell, 1989).
                         FIGURE 5:  Summary of workforce competency
                         NOTE: From SOPHISTICATED TECHNOLOGY, THE
                         WORKFORCE, AND VOCATIONAL EDUCATION (p. 33)
                         by S. D. Johnson, W. T. Foster, and R.
                         Satchwell, 1989, Springfield, Illinois:
                         Illinois State Board of Education, Department
                         of Adult, Vocational and Technical Education.
                              As shown in Figure 5, there is consider-
                         able consistency in the recommendations of
                         the workforce projection reports.  As one
                         would expect, the basic skills of reading,
                         written and oral communication, and computa-
                         tion are identified by all of the competency
                         reports.  As technology advances, the written
                         material used to support new equipment and
                         processes becomes more technical, and there-
                         fore, much more difficult to read.  As a re-
                         sult, future workers need higher reading and
                         comprehension levels than the present
                         workforce.  For example, approximately 70% of
                         the written material used in a cross section
                         of jobs requires AT LEAST a high school read-
                         ing level (Mikulecky, 1984) while most tech-
                         nical occupations require at least a 12th
                         grade reading level (McLaughlin, Bennett, & 
                         Verity, 1988).  The ability to communicate
                         effectively is also essential for productive
                         employment.  Workers are being asked to work
                         in teams, deal directly with customers, and
                         participate in decision-making.  All of these
                         changes increase the importance of the abil-
                         ity to speak and write effectively.
                              The worker of the future must also be
                         proficient in basic computational skills
                         which includes working with fractions, deci-
                         mals, proportions, and measurements.  As oc-
                         cupations become more technical, skill with
                         algebra, geometry, statistics, trigonometry,
                         and calculus becomes essential.  The impor-
                         tance given to these "academic" skills by the
                         workforce projection reports supports the
                         current trend to increase the integration of
                         the academic and the vocational/technical
                         areas; a trend which has been heavily sup-
                         ported in the technology education movement.
                              Evidence for the integration of academic
                         content into technology education curricula
                         can be found in each issue of THE TECHNOLOGY
                         TEACHER, the journal of the International
                         Technology Education Association.  Each issue
                         of THE TECHNOLOGY TEACHER explicitly presents
                         effective ways to interface the mathematical,
                         scientific, and technological aspects of var-
                         ious technologies.  The Council on Technology
                         Teacher Education has also supported the in-
                         tegration of academic content into technology
                         education programs through their annual
                         yearbook (Zuga, 1988).  Possibly the best ex-
                         ample of the potential for integrating aca-
                         demic content into technology education was
                         provided at TECHNOLOGY EDUCATION SYMPOSIUM
                         XI.  At this annual symposium, seventeen
                         presenters described their attempts to de-
                         velop interdisciplinary technology education
                         programs (Erekson & Johnson, 1989).  Based on
                         the success of the programs that were de-
                         scribed at the symposium, it is clear that
                         technology education is a valid approach for
                         reinforcing basic academic skills.
                              In addition to the academic skills
                         needed by the worker of the future, the
                         workforce projection reports stress the im-
                         portance of cognitive process skills.  Cogni-
                         tive process skills include the higher order
                         thinking skills of problem solving, decision
                         making, and creativity; skills which lead to
                         flexible behavior and the ability to learn.
                         It is in this area, improving student think-
                         ing skills, in which technology education may
                         have the most to contribute.  In fact, it has
                         been suggested that improving student problem
                         solving skills should be a major goal of
                         technology education programs (Clark, 1989;
                         Technology Education Advisory Council, 1988;
                         Waetjen, 1989).
                              Waetjen (1989) observes that many of the
                         recent curriculum guides for technology edu-
                         cation identify problem solving as a major
                         teaching method for improving student's
                         understanding of technology and their ability
                         to solve technological problems.  While prob-
                         lem solving is viewed in these curriculum
                         documents as a method of teaching, when used
                         properly it also leads to the enhancement of
                         student problem solving abilities.  For exam-
                         ple, instructors typically solve problems be-
                         fore they are given to students in order to
                         eliminate potential difficulties.  As a re-
                         sult, students complete these problems (more
                         appropriately called exercises) with very
                         little cognitive effort.  However, creative
                         technology teachers provide their students
                         with ill-structured problems that require the
                         students to actually solve the problems.
                         Students are required to identify the prob-
                         lem, collect information, search for poten-
                         tial solutions, select a solution strategy,
                         and evaluate the result.  By actively solving
                         realistic technological problems in technol-
                         ogy education courses, students are being
                         forced to think, reason, and make decisions.
                         Through these problem solving activities,
                         students can develop the cognitive skills
                         that are too often neglected in the schools
                         even though they are becoming prerequisites
                         for success in the world of work.
                              While emphasizing academic and cognitive
                         process skills are important goals for a
                         technology education program, they should not
                         be the sole focus.  Educational reformers of
                         the 1980s have suggested that employers want
                         graduates to have only strong basic skills
                         and that each business will provide the nec-
                         essary technical training for their workers
                         (U.  S.  Department of Education, 1986).
                         However, recent evidence does not support
                         that contention.
                              Employers still need employees who pos-
                         sess a high level of technical competence.
                         Technical skills are essential because they
                         facilitate the acquisition of additional
                         skills.  On a very practical level, when a
                         new technology is adopted by a company, em-
                         ployers tend to involve those workers who
                         have the greatest level of technical skill.
                         For example, when CNC machining is introduced
                         into a factory, it is common for management
                         to select their best machinists to learn the
                         new process.  Consequently, technical skills
                         are more important than many education refor-
                         mers would suggest.
                              The lack of emphasis given to technical
                         skills in the workforce projection reports
                         suggests that these skills are a "given" for
                         employment.  As stated by the Michigan
                         Employability Skills Task Force (1988):
                         "While not specifically addressed in the
                         Employability Skills Profile, the importance
                         of vocational-technical skills should not be
                         overlooked or minimized.  The value of spe-
                         cific vocational training will, in addition
                         to the Profile skills, often enhance one's
                         employment opportunities, qualify one for
                         special job classifications, and lead to ul-
                         timate success."  (p. 4) As stated by Gray
                         (1989), it seems that what employers mean by
                         basic skills is somewhat different from what
                         academicians mean.  In the mind of most
                         academicians, basic skills include reading,
                         writing, and computation.  However, there is
                         little doubt that, in the minds of most em-
                         ployers, technical skills are the most basic
                         job competency (Johnson, Foster, & Satchwell,
                         1989).  Because technical skills are a neces-
                         sity for productive employment, technology
                         education instructors and curriculum develop-
                         ers must continue the industrial arts tradi-
                         tion of hands-on, experiential learning with
                         tools, materials, and systems.  Technology
                         education programs may be the only place
                         where secondary level students can experience
                         and interact with technological devices and
                              While the relationship between technol-
                         ogy education curricula and traditional voca-
                         tional outcomes such as workforce training
                         and productivity have not been actively ad-
                         dressed by the field, technology education
                         does have a unique and significant role to
                         play in the effort to improve workforce pro-
                         ductivity.  Clearly this role is not to pro-
                         vide the specific vocational and technical
                         skills needed for productive employment.
                         Those skills are best provided through post-
                         secondary programs in community colleges and
                         technical institutes.  Technology education
                         can, however, empower its students with a
                         literacy that enhances future learning and
                         interaction with technology, that is, the
                         broad skills and competencies that are most
                         desired by employers.  Through hands-on expe-
                         riences with technology, students can inte-
                         grate and apply their learning, enhance their
                         higher order thinking skills, and increase
                         their ability to interact with technological
                         devices and systems.
                         Scott D. Johnson is Assistant Professor and
                         Chair, Technology Education Division, Depart-
                         ment of Vocational and Technical Education,
                         University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,
                         Champaign, Illinois.  The preparation of this
                         paper was supported in part by a grant from
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               Journal of Technology Education   Volume 2, Number 2       Spring 1991