JTE v2n2 - Productivity, the Workforce, and Technology Education

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.
               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.
               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.
               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
          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.
          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.
          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.
          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.
          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.
          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,
          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.
          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
          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
          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