Standardized people won't build the future

If you suspect you have ADHD as an adult, an early history of ADHD symptoms - difficulty sitting still, paying attention to the teacher, and focusing on your work, for example - can confirm the diagnosis. "What adult patients will tell you over and over and over again is that they had to work twice as hard as their peers to get half as much done in school," Dr. Wetzel says. istockphoto

(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY Ever since 2002, when President George W. Bush ramped up standardized testing with the No Child Left Behind Act, kids have been tested and tested - but no boss I've talked to has felt or seen any improvement in the talent available in the workforce. State spending has increased but outcomes haven't improved. There are a range of reasons given as to why this much trumpeted initiative hasn't worked, not least of which is the absence of correlation between standardized tests and the knowledge and skills needed in the real world outside the classroom.

According to Peter Weddle, former CEO of JobBank USA and author of A Multitude of Hope, schools have focused on the wrong work, the wrong people and the wrong goals.

"We can see the talent of Lady Gaga," says Weddle, "but not the talent of an accounts payable clerk. And that's myopic. We are all endowed with talent, but we have to discover it, nurture it and then bring it to work with us."

To nurture that talent, it isn't enough to fill kids' heads with facts and figures; they need to learn how to manage and develop their talent for themselves.

"Schools should give less homework and require students to do more 'self work,'" Weddle argues. "For the past 75 years, American colleges and universities have been graduating 'career idiot savants.' They've taught generations of students a great deal about this or that field of study, but absolutely nothing about how to make a career out of what they've learned."

What this means is that we are reaching a point where, having lost the battle for cheap labor, we stand to lose the battle for smart labor too.

"Contrast that point of view with the situation in China. Ironically, in a country with far less opportunity than here in the land that invented it, every college student - as a requirement of graduation - takes a course called Personal Mastery. It teaches them the principles and practices of career self-management - the skills and knowledge they need to achieve success in the one-third (or more) of their lives they will spend employed," Weddle says.

What that means for employees is that many of them feel today that they're having to do a lot of remedial work: Teaching team work, discipline, focus and responsibility to colleagues. Many complain about it. But it seems clear to me that since government hasn't addressed this problem, business leaders must. We can't afford to wait another ten years, hoping more autonomous, driven and disciplined new hires will just turn up.

The good news is that those organizations that do provide serious career development, training, coaching and mentoring don't just get a smarter workforce -- they hugely increase the loyalty people feel to their employers. It's an investment worth making.

  • Margaret Heffernan On Twitter»

    Margaret Heffernan has been CEO of five businesses in the United States and United Kingdom. A speaker and writer, her most recent book Willful Blindness was shortlisted for the Financial Times Best Business Book 2011. Visit her on www.MHeffernan.com.

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