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America’s Choice: High Skills or Low Wages!

In 1990, a commission chaired by former U.S. Secretaries of Labor Ray Marshall and William E. Brock published the third, and in many ways, the most alarming in a series of reports about the plight of the U.S. work force.

The report, America’s Choice: High Skills or Low Wages, deals with workers without a college education (roughly 70 percent) and youngsters not college-bound—a group the commission calls the “frontline workers”—who are “ill-equipped to meet employers’ current needs and ill-prepared for the rapidly approaching, high-technology, service-oriented future.”

The commission’s concern is heightened by the fact that it found little awareness of these skills problems during visits to hundreds of firms in all sectors of the economy and interviews with thousands of employers, personnel managers, production supervisors, and ordinary workers.

Although more than 80 percent of employers did express concern about skills shortages, “they generally mean a good work ethic and social skills.” The commission says that “only 15 percent of employers report difficulty finding workers with appropriate occupational skills,” but these were in underpaid “women’s” occupations and traditional craft trades. The commission found little evidence of a far-reaching desire for a more educated work force.

Recommendations include the following:

  1. A new educational performance standard should be set for all students, to be met by age 16, with the standard established nationally and benchmarked to the highest in the world;
  2. States should take the responsibility for assuring that virtually all students achieve the Certificate of Initial Mastery (CIM), with new local Employment and Training Boards creating and funding alternative learning environments for those who cannot attain the CIM in regular schools;
  3. A comprehensive system of Technical and Professional Certificates and associate’s degrees should be created for the majority of students and adult workers who do not pursue a baccalaureate degree;
  4. All employers should be given incentives and assistance to invest in the further education and training of their workers and to pursue high productivity forms of work organization; and
  5. A system of Employment and Training Boards should be established by federal and state governments, together with local leadership, to organize and oversee the new school-to-work transition programs and training systems.

Read the full report.