Businesses Must Act To Students Back OnTrack

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The U.S. Labor Department estimates that by the end of thisdecade, our nation will face a shortage of 12 million qualifiedworkers for the faster-growing segments of the job market. Andwhile the insurance industry may not need as many workers as somesegments, it's abundantly clear we'll be competing strenuously forthe best talent.

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Demand for insurance will continue to climb. The demand will bespurred by, among other things, an aging population interested inhealth care coverage and by uncertainty in our civil justice systemthat carries the potential of large liability awards.

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While there will be growth in demand for our products andservices, the amount of job growth will be heavily influenced byhow technology drives productivity gains.

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For instance, underwriting software that quickly analyzes theinformation on insurance applications will impact our need forunderwriters in the future. The Internet capacity that enablesclients to obtain quotes, submit claims or simply obtaininformation online is likely to have an impact on the numbers ofother workers we'll need.

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While the information technology that will play an ever moreintegral part in all business processes may demand fewer workers,it will also require higher level skills and knowledge.

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Now here's the challenge for our industry and businessgenerally: According to a recent study by the U.S. Department ofEducation, seven out of ten students who do graduate from highschool don't have the coursework needed to succeed in college orthe workplace. Of those who go on to college, nearly half requireremedial courses. Those that must take remedial work are six timesless likely to complete their degrees.

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The trend is already in evidence.

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A 2001 poll by Public Agenda indicates that seven-in-tenbusinesses nationwide report poor basic employment skills amongrecent hires. Almost two-thirds complained about inadequate mathskills. Three out of four indicated new hires lacked sufficientwriting skills.

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So while our industry faces a need for workers with strongeracademic and technical skills, the data and personal experienceindicate many of our nation's high school graduates lack theknowledge, skills and work ethic to succeed.

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What's the solution?

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The bottom line is that we, as business people, must demand moreof our schools.

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Research strongly indicates that students who've completedrigorous coursework in high school are better equipped to succeedin college or in the workplace, in military training programs, andto continue life-long learning that will position them for careerchanges.

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Because the majority of jobs now require some type of educationachievement beyond high school, all students need to complete asequence of rigorous academic courses in math, lab sciences,English, social studies and foreign languages.

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The State Scholars Initiative, introduced last year by PresidentBush and U.S. Secretary of Education Rodney Paige, is challenginghigh school students to master a set of academically rigorouscourses that will prepare them to succeed in college, in their jobsand in life. This is a simple, low-cost, high-impact approach tomotivating high school students to take tough courses. And researchshows it's working. In community after community, it's doubling andtripling the rate of completion in lab science and higher mathcourses.

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The key ingredient is business people taking a lead role indrawing a clear picture of the opportunities that await youngpeople who work hard and complete the right courses in high school.Our company will look to Scholars in Maryland and Texas for ourhiring needs, for instance, because it's incumbent on us to fostera culture of achievement among young people.

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Yes, it's important to our business that we have a capableworkforce in the years to come. But a quality education providesmuch more than that.

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It helps our young people build their self-confidence and theirsatisfaction with other areas of life and to become strong, usefulcitizens.

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What can be more important?

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The State Scholars Initiative needs business volunteerswilling to talk to students in their classrooms, as well as toassist in developing incentives and academic supports that keepstudents on track to graduate as Scholars. Insurance companyexecutives interested in becoming involved with the Initiativeat acommunity or state policy levelcan contact the Center for StateScholars at [email protected].

Edward B. Rust Jr. is chairman and CEO of State Farm. He alsoserves as chairman of the Business-Higher Education Forum. He ispast chairman of The Business Roundtable's Education Initiative,former co-chairman of the Business Coalition for Excellence inEducation, a director of Achieve Inc. and the National Center forEducational Accountability. He serves on the National (Glenn)Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21stCentury.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Property &Casualty/Risk & Benefits Management Edition, December 5, 2003.Copyright 2003 by The National Underwriter Company in the serialpublication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as anindependent work may be held by the author.


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