More Innovation, More Employment

˙ PREAL Blog

This post is also available in: Spanish

Originally published in the Huffington Post on 24/06/2012. 

The global economic crisis and lack of jobs in developed countries is creating serious challenges for young people finishing their college degrees, and even more so for those high school graduates who have not had the opportunity to obtain additional formal education. 


According to a recent study by the John Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University, in the United States, just three out of every ten 18- to 29-year-olds with only a high school degree are employed full time, compared to double this amount among college graduates. Seventy three percent of these individuals recognize that they ought to pursue additional education, but said that they could not do so in the short term. 

The precarious economic situation has generated a greater awareness of the need to obtain education among youth of all ages, but has also made it more difficult to find jobs that offer good pay and possibilities for career development.

In addition to this reality, twenty-first century employees need skills and qualifications that many schools still do not provide. As Professor Tony Wagner of Harvard University suggested in his recent book Creating Innovators, published by Scribner, young people need “critical thinking, collaboration between networks, leadership based on influence, agility and adaptability, initiative and entrepreneurial spirit, ability to access and analyze information, effective oral and written communication, and curiosity and imagination.” 

Many authors have spoken of the need for young people to develop these skills, but Wagner not only explains it masterfully, as he had already done in his previous book, The Global Achievement Gap, but shows it by describing the initiatives of several youth. In turn, Wagner’s book is a demonstration of innovation in and of itself. In collaboration with the documentary filmmaker 

Wagner argues in his book that innovation and the creation of innovators are crucial to both the long and short-term economic success of the United States. Due to profound increases in global competition, the country can no longer depend solely on those sectors it previously led. It is not enough for only a small portion of the population to be capable of innovating and creating new products and services. It is vital that the United States expands this capacity to the entire population. Bob Campton, it allows the reader to access videos, author commentary, and interviews in electronic format using bar codes within the printed version.

Innovation is the key to creating new products and services and, in turn, new jobs. Dean Kamen, who invented the Segway electronic vehicle in 2001, knows this well, according to Creating Innovators. The Segway company brings in tens of millions of dollars in revenue each year, with distribution in countries including Mexico, China, Japan, Australia, and most of Europe. As stated by Kamen, “Today, we must create intellectual property to create wealth.” It is much cheaper to produce raw materials in other countries and the United States simply cannot compete in this environment. Therefore, according to Kamen, “the real value is the creation of scalable ideas that do not consume resources and are not zero-sum.” 

Through his research, Professor Wagner demonstrated that young people in the United States often manage to become innovators in spite of their attendance at school, where error is generally penalized, curiosity is discouraged, and predetermined methods are used that do not leave students much space for active and practical instruction. 

At the same time, the standardized tests used to evaluate students and teachers discourage the spirit of innovation. According to Wagner, multiple-choice tests, which are used in most assessments, are not an appropriate form of evaluation. They are important for obtaining certain information on performance, but are insufficient for assessing learning and are certainly not conducive to promoting innovation among youth. 

Few students can become the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, but most can be taught to be more innovative in whatever they do, argues Wagner. Young innovators have several common denominators that Wagner summarizes in the three ‘p’ factors: “play, passion and purpose”. These characteristics can be understood to mean that playing with new ideas and dreams can lead young people to develop a passion for what they do, ultimately leading to an end goal – a purpose in life. 

According to the report from Rutgers University, 56 percent of respondents with a high school diploma but no college education believe that their generation will have less economic success than that of their parents. In contrast, only 14 percent say that it will be better than that of their parents. This pessimism has to do with the difficult economic environment, but also with the reality that these young people feel that they lack the skills and abilities necessary to obtain stable employment. 

As Wagner says, “The world does not care what we know. Information has become free, like air. What is much more difficult is to use this information to create something new.” The future of our economy and our students depends on whether we can teach a new generation how to create new things.

The author is Managing Director at Blue Star Strategies.

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