Like U.S., Japan faces ‘skills gap’

In Japan, talented 15-year-olds can go directly to technical colleges that mix academic rigor and “workplace know-how,” writes Blaine Harden in the Washington Post.

. . . they turn into full-time nerds-in-training, enrolling in colleges where they make robots and write software, test diodes and study English, dirty their hands on factory floors and wait for job offers to come flooding in. . . . Graduates of the standard five-year course at Japan’s 57 national colleges of technology, collectively known as Kosen, can each expect about 20 job offers, school officials say. Students who stay on for an extra two years of advanced study receive about 30 offers.

Only one percent of students, often from working-class families, go to Kosen. Most Japanese students go to universities, which don’t offer practical training, says Motohisa Kaneko, director of research at the Center for National University Finance and Management. “Even the basic competence of university graduates in engineering is rather dubious.”

The skills gap that troubles Japan is tormenting the United States. Since 2000, the percentage of U.S. young adults aged 20-24 with jobs has fallen from 74 percent to 62 percent, a level not seen since the 1930s, according to a 2011 study by Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. It concluded that the “college-for-all” system that emerged in the United States after World War II is failing the majority of American youth.

By the time they reach their mid-20s, only about 40 percent of Americans earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, census data show.

“We are leaving a lot of kids behind,” said Anthony P. Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. “High school in America is about preparing for a college degree that most young people will not get, and in the meantime these kids are disconnected from anything that is real in the world of work.”

The story is the first in the Hechinger Report‘s Lessons from Abroad series on how our  international competitors are educating their young people.

Forty-one percent of Americans 25 to 34 years old have earned an associate or bachelor’s degree. South Korea, where 63 percent of young adults hold a credential, leads the world, followed by Canada and Japan, both at 56 percent. Russia is fourth, at 55 percent.

The series will examine higher education in China, India, Japan and South Korea, as well as Canada, Great Britain and Ireland.