Wednesday, July 13, 2011

How To Fix Everything

When I was a kid I thought that all adults were smart. You can say that I am disappointed. I always thought that most grown ups had their shit together or at least, I assumed that most of them could communicate .... um ... like adults. After working as a cog in the corporate machine for the past two decades, I have grown jaded in this respect. My expectations are so low that I just assume that any communication that comes my way is going to be badly written and all too often, incomprehensible. I used to assume that anyone that had a white collar job had the prerequisite communication skills that is required for a job of pushing paper or in my case, pushing data. I don't anymore. I realize in the workplace, expecting perfect grammar in emails is unreasonable. I am sure my grammar is far from perfect as well. But I don't think I am being unreasonable by expecting clear communication adhering to some degree of business protocol, at least as high as the level of the book reports I submitted while I was in high school. On a daily basis, I get emails from people who don't know the difference between "than" and "then" or "your" and "you're" or "since" and "sense" or who think "alot" is a word. How did they get through college? I don't know. But my respect for a college education is getting lower and lower the more I work in IT. I only wish I could grade their emails. A good 50-60% of them would fail. This hasn't been any different any white collar job I have had and I don't expect it to get better any time soon.

It is an on-going problem, not just in IT, but in the workplace in general. Soft skills are very bad everywhere. I have worked with some amazingly intelligent people in my career. Some of them can troubleshoot data networks and write integrated computer code, so quickly and efficiently, it would blow your mind. Yet if you ask them to explain a problem to a customer or to a manager ... to "document" their work ... it is like asking them for their mother board. Blank faces and resistance follows. Managers struggle with this all the time. They want to send their employees to training for writing skills or customer service skills ... but can you really train for these so-called soft skills? You can try, but I have seen no evidence of success. By the time people are in the workplace, these skills are deeply ingrained. You might as well try to teach them to type with their feet. By the time you are a teenager or young adult, you have already acquired these skills or you probably never will. What is the answer? How do we fix this for the future? You can say a lot of things, but one of them is Universal Pre-school.

Economist James Heckman says that if we pay now (for preschool) we'll save later when the kids are adults. Not only does early intervention help create adults with better communication skills but they commit less crime and are less likely to be on welfare. So instead of sitting at home watching television or in some unproductive child care, they are in school, playing, interacting, socializing and learning. Heckman's study followed 120 students in a poor neighborhood in Michigan over a span of 30 years. Half the students, the control group, didn't go to preschool. 30 years later, the students in the control group made, on the average $30k less and were arrested twice the amount of time.

Prisons, courts, crime and poor productivity are extremely expensive, far more expensive than preschool. The ROI (return on investment) is off the wall on preschool. For every dollar we spend as a society on each student, we could get or save from $30 to $300. Similar studies has been done with several results, most recently in California by the Rand Corporation. The basic idea, people who have been to preschool need less training and are more productive citizens and employees.


This make me regret that I didn't go to preschool. Perhaps I'd would be more productive if I had.

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