Business and civic leaders, the labor community, economists, and educators are talking about the future of the American workforce. As the saying goes, the future begins now. News stories abound about the “skills gap”—in nursing, manufacturing, engineering, computer technology and other fields—that require postsecondary technical education and training. The October 2011 interim report by the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness states, “In the 21st century global marketplace, a nation’s economy can only be as strong as the skills of its people.” Experts contend that shortages of “work ready” individuals are undermining U.S. competitiveness, causing employers to shift jobs overseas, and exacerbating wage stagnation here at home.
What does “work ready” mean? No consensus exists on this question, but numerous frameworks have emerged to address it. In general, these frameworks conceive of individuals who possess both “hard skills” (e.g., reading, writing, and arithmetic) and “soft skills” (e.g., flexibility, self-direction, self-regulation, accountability, leadership, and responsibility). However, knowledge for a safe and healthy workplace is the missing life skill in most work-readiness frameworks. This is a significant oversight. Safe and healthy work is essential to human well-being. Individuals who are injured on the job can’t be productive, fully functioning participants in the workforce.
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