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ICG Risk Blog - [ The continuing strategic failure to address our slide in Pre-K through 20+ education ]

The continuing strategic failure to address our slide in Pre-K through 20+ education


During the preparation of Islamic flashpoints: Even adjustments may be outside Western control, December 1, 2006, which was a requested deeper dive on Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine from the survey of Colonial/Western-Arab relationships in Islamic territory from North Africa to South Asia: No solutions, only adjustments, September 8, 2006, I found myself frequently thinking of vital national issues that have been neglected as Iraq continues to divert US attention, manpower, diplomacy and money to Baghdad:

  • China's growing mercantile net
  • Russia's kleptocracy class armed with the energy weapon
  • Eclipse of US dominance of technologically sophisticated, major weapons systems
  • Pre-K through 20+ education
  • Conservation policy and conservation technology
  • While it is transient - resolving the Republican struggle from the Bush Family struggle

In keeping with my view that 'The hole is as good as the donut,' that is, a thoughtful observer needs to look at what is missing as well as what is present, I opened the presentation with these six issues as I felt that they increased the gravity of the Iraqi situation in particular and the Middle East in general. It is one thing to be succeeding in Iraq, Afghanistan (we were, but we relocated attention and assets to Iraq and have likely lost it as well) and the Middle East so that one could argue that the tradeoff was worthwhile, but it is quite another to be singularly failing in those conflict areas as well as neglecting strategic areas of need.

Education gap of domestic students (those who will stay in the US) continues to gape

I urge readers to start with The US needs a "No Nation Left Behind" program - for itself which forms an effective preamble to this note. "No Nation" highlights the continued dwindling of US engineering and technical cadres for both the defense and commercial sectors:

My attention was arrested by the gap - more a failure to address with no systemic solution in sight - between two reports by the Defense Science Board, Future Strategic Strike Forces, Feb 2004, and Future Strategic Strike Skills, March 2006. Both deal with US strategic strike force capabilities, the first being a statement of strategic strike needs out to 2030 and the second describing the systemic breach in human assets, commercial valuation that attracts those assets, and education capable of producing the skills needed in order to achieve those strike goals.

I take this gap as a metaphor of our failure to properly incent and educate an entire class of technologists be it for military or commercial applications. Considering that many of our weapons systems are aging, designed twenty or more years ago by engineers that graduated fifteen or more years earlier, we are increasingly unable to revise and extend existing systems or design future systems...

Strike Skills makes appalling reading, noting that the "personnel required for the development of such systems should be highly innovative [but that] attracting such individuals may be difficult due to the lack of financial incentives associated with civilian industry's efforts." "[I]t appears that a serious loss of certain critical strategic strike skills may occur within the next decade." Whereas Strike Forces itemized "well known" deficiencies in command and control networks; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance and battle damage assessment; delivery systems; and payloads, the five findings of Strike Skills paint the picture of a dwindling industrial base...

"The future workforce is here, and it is ill-prepared"

Improving our entire Pre-K through 20+ is worthy of a Moonshot mandate (also here); I'd go so far as to say it is the Moonshot mandate that will allow us to address other challenges. The Conference Board's recently released Are They Ready to Work? shows that our desired education levels for high school, 2-year and 4-year college graduates are about as far away as the moon: "Less than intense preparation in critical skills can lead to unsuccessful futures for America's youth, as well as a less competitive U.S. workforce. This ultimately makes the U.S. economy more vulnerable in the global marketplace."

I found it interesting that business overwhelmingly valued applied skills over basic skills such as the three "R's":

Applied Skills refer to those skills that enable new entrants to use the basic knowledge they have acquired in school to perform in the workplace. Applied skills include those based on cognitive abilities such as Critical Thinking/Problem Solving, as well as more social and behavioral skills such as Professionalism/Work Ethic. Some of the other applied skills, such as Oral Communications and Teamwork/Collaboration, combine both cognitive abilities and social skills.

While K-12 (high school), K-14 (two-year graduates) and K-16 (four-year graduates were substandard when measured against business expectations, there was a painful performance gap in the top five applied skills, ranked "very important," for high school graduate entrants, 2-year and 4-year college graduates:

  • Critical thinking/problem solving (high school, 2-year and 4-year)
  • Oral communications (high school, 2-year and 4-year)
  • Written communications (2-year and 4-year)
  • Teamwork/collaboration (high school, 2-year and 4-year)
  • Professionalism/work ethic (high school, 2-year and 4-year)
  • Ethics/social responsibility (high school)
  • Diversity
  • Information technology application
  • Leadership
  • Creativity/innovation
  • Lifelong learning/self direction

Individual careers and national competitiveness obey the KANO Model just as do products and services

Applied to products and services since the early 1980s, Noriaki Kano's customer satisfaction model applies equally to individual career attractiveness and by extension to the products, ideas and services on offer from the nation of those individuals. The competitiveness of a nation is just as susceptible to decay as the value of an individual contributor or a product.

By the mid-1990s I was informally applying the Kano Model to career development as I counseled colleagues. I saw that individuals entered the marketplace with an attractive, perhaps even exciting, balance of skills (abilities divided by salary) but as time elapsed many individuals did not improve their skills yet claimed higher wages. No wonder that some unpleasantly found themselves both 'expensive' and 'out-of-date' when compared to new entrants.

Kano commenced consumer satisfaction research in the 1970s that soon identified both perceived and latent, or unexpressed, customer needs:

Konica camera company realized that to remain competitive its new camera must be something completely different from what was available at the time. However, when the R&D and Sales departments began talking to customers, it sounded like they were asking for only minor modifications in the existing model. When they went to a photo processing lab, however, they saw that there were many failures - such as blurry images, under and over exposures, and blank rolls. Working to solve these problems led to many features available in cameras today (such as auto focus, builtin-flash, automatic film winding). [The] key to success was to not just listen to what customers were saying but to develop a deep understanding of the customers' world and then to address these latent [unexpressed] needs.

The fundamental concept of "attractive quality" was the result. Kano went on to create three classes of attributes, excitement, performance and basic:

  • Excitement or "surprise and delight" characteristics: "unexpected attributes that, when provided, generate disproportionately high levels of customer enthusiasm and satisfaction." Customers rarely express a need or desire for them until they see them, but immediately cherish them when they do.
  • Performance characteristics: attributes exhibiting "a linear relationship between perceptions of attribute performance and customer satisfaction." I think the best way to describe this class of attributes is that they are the 'spoken' or verbalized in a product brochure.
  • Threshold or basic characteristics: "essential or "must" attributes of performance [that] do not offer any real opportunity for product differentiation. Providing threshold attributes and meeting customer expectations for them will do little to enhance overall customer satisfaction, but removing or performing poorly on them will hurt customer satisfaction, lead to customer complaints, and may result in customer defections." A product or service must have these features just to play in the market.

The Kano Model does not explicitly state the overwhelming contribution of Delight and Performance to the total feature set: The excitement features that captivate the buyer account for 5% or less of total features. Performance features account for approximately 15% of the total feature set. Basic, or must-be, features account for the balance of 80% of the total feature set.

As customer's requirements change over time, features initially generating excitement migrate downward to an expected or assumed category as the market approaches saturation. "In time, excitement quality will become a performance item and with the passage of time, quite possibly a basic requirement." Electric starting, pneumatic tires, and automatic transmissions initially generated excitement as each made vehicles easier and more comfortable to drive. Each progressively slid to a performance feature in which customers would rank certain designs better than others. Over time, each declined to an assumed or basic quality item from which customers demanded flawless performance. Comment occurred only when they failed.

This feature cascade can be stated as:

  • Customer is delighted because of an expected feature (excitement)
  • Customer is capable of evaluating vendors' features (performance)
  • Customer is disappointed if a feature is not present (basic)

To see Kano in diagrammatic form, go herehere and for comprehensive coverage, here. Substitute 'career' or 'national competitiveness' for 'product' here to see how easily you and your nation can become a commodity.

Failing to continue learning, fixing the 'half-life' value of education, is a recipe to slide from excitement to commodity

I found it depressing that the Conference Board respondents ranked "Lifelong learning/self direction" so low, ranking it 9 of 11 for high school graduates, 8 of 11 for two-year college graduates and 10 of 11 for four-year college graduates. Even considering employers' focus on short term remedial needs, the ranking indicates a general failure of business to understand that the 'half-life' of the content of a baccalaureate degree is measured in a few years - often four or less. Businesses need perpetual learners. To not understand this and plan for it is to orchestrate one's slide down the Kano model into uncompetitiveness.

Educating the Engineer of 2020: Adapting Engineering Education to the New Century noted that:

The B.S. degree should be considered as a preengineering or "engineer in training" degree. Engineering programs should be accredited at both the B.S. and M.S. levels, so that the M.S. degree can be recognized as the engineering "professional" degree... Colleges and universities should endorse research in engineering education as a valued and rewarded activity for engineering faculty and should develop new standards for faculty qualifications. In addition to producing engineers who have been taught the advances in core knowledge and are capable of defining and solving problems in the short term, institutions must teach students how to be lifelong learners. Engineering educators should introduce interdisciplinary learning in the undergraduate curriculum and explore the use of case studies of engineering successes and failures as a learning tool... Institutions should encourage domestic students to obtain M.S. and/or Ph.D. degrees.

The report does a creditable job of painting the need for growth, learning and flexibility:

If the United States is to maintain its economic leadership and be able to sustain its share of high-technology jobs, it must prepare for this wave of change. Although there is no consensus at this stage, it is agreed that innovation is the key and engineering is essential to this task; but engineering will only contribute to success if it is able to continue to adapt to new trends and provide education to the next generation of students so as to arm them with the tools needed for the world as it will be, not as it is today...

Although certain basics of engineering will not change, the explosion of knowledge, the global economy, and the way engineers will work will reflect an ongoing evolution that began to gain momentum a decade ago. The economy in which we will work will be strongly influenced by the global marketplace for engineering services, evidenced by the outsourcing of engineering jobs, a growing need for interdisciplinary and system-based approaches, demands for new paradigms of customization, and an increasingly international talent pool...

Engineering 2020 speaks to the fragility of initial knowledge. One of the discussion threads of the breakouts dealt with the short "shelf life" of knowledge in today's world (and what shelf life might be in 2020). Students needed to "develop the skills and attitudes that foster lifelong learning and that technology advances that allow distance and asynchronous learning could be key enablers to support that learning":

The half-life of cutting-edge technical knowledge today is on the order of a few years, but globalization of the economy is accelerating and the international marketplace for engineering services is dynamic...

I have seen figures stating that a top-tier lifelong student will have to retrain themselves four to five times in their career to retain currency against new domestic and foreign entrants. Those numbers become very believable when one sees how consistently short half-life periods are defined:

2005: "The half-life of knowledge has become miniscule in many fields. Having once undergone training or holding a degree or degrees is not enough. Lifelong learning is essential to competitiveness."

The American Academy of Political and Social Science "estimated the half-life of an engineer's skills in 1986 at 2.5 years in software engineering, 5.0 years in electrical engineering..."

IN 2001 "the half-life of an engineering degree is now projected to be something like seven years"

IN 2002, Penn State noted that "the half-life of one's Internet/Web knowledge obsoletes every two years"

"Where technologies and training once changed every 20 years, today the half-life of rapidly advancing technologies may be anywhere between three and five years. Such rapid development requires the education of current workers and professionals in the latest technological advances and related applications."

Put the failure of solving career half-life decay into the Kano Model and solve for your value. Individually and as a nation, we desperately need to teach early, teach thoroughly, teach consistently and as important, teach how to learn. It is our next Moonshot.

Most Young People Entering the U.S. Workforce Lack Critical Skills Essential for Success
Conference Board
Press notice
Oct. 2, 2006

Are They Really Ready to Work?
Employers' Perspectives on the Basic Knowledge and Applied Skills of New Entrants to the 21st Century U.S. Marketplace
Jill Casner-Lotto, Linda Barrington
Report Number:  BED-06-Workforc
October 2006

P.V. (Sundar) Balakrishnan
University of Washington
September 2006

Future Strategic Strike Skills
Defense Science Board (DSB)
Office of the Under Secretary of Defense For Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics
Washington, D.C. 20301-3140
March 2006

Educating the Engineer of 2020: Adapting Engineering Education to the New Century
Committee on the Engineer of 2020, Phase II, Committee on Engineering Education, National Academy of Engineering
National Academy Press
ISBN: 0309096499

2005 Proceedings
Association for Continuing Higher Education
67th Annual Meeting
Madison, Wisconsin
October 29 -
November 1, 2005

Kano Taxonomy of Customer Needs
Posted by Gene Smith on Nov 15, 2004

Future Strategic Strike Forces
Defense Science Board (DSB)
Office of the Under Secretary of Defense For Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics
Washington, D.C. 20301-3140
February 2004

The Evolution of a B.S. Internet/Web Program at Purdue University Calumet
Charles R. Winer and John Maniotes
Purdue University Calumet, Hammond, IN
June 2002

Center for Community College Policy, Denver, Colorado
July 2001

Evaluating Customer Satisfaction with Media Products and Services
An Attribute Based Approach
By Randy Jacobs
European Media Management Review
Winter 1999

A special issue on Kano's Methods for Understanding Customer-defined Quality
Center for Quality Management Journal
Vol 2, number 4, Fall 1993

Higher-Education Partnerships in Engineering and Science
Lionel V. Baldwin
Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Vol. 514, Electronic Links for Learning (Mar., 1991), pp. 76-91

John F. Kennedy Moon Speech - Rice Stadium
John F. Kennedy
Johnson Space Center, NASA
September 12, 1962

1961: Kennedy pledges man on Moon
On This Day
25 May, 1961

Special Message to the Congress on Urgent National Needs.
John F. Kennedy
The American Presidency Project
May 25th, 1961

Gordon Housworth

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