The Relevance of the Coming Jobs War

The Coming Jobs War is a book by Jim Clifton that has great relevance to education. It is an excellent book and I recommend it to all thinking people. The overall premise of the book is based on surveying done by the Gallup Poll. Clifton uses the book to go through a number of issues that are necessary for the United States to compete for jobs in the future global economy. Gallup has surveyed the world and found that the most important thing people want is a good job. This has relevance to America particularly in light of the 2016 presidential election that was won due to the swing of the normally blue or Democratic states that are part of the rust belt. These are states that lost millions of jobs to overseas countries. The ideas in this book are enormously significant to my ideas about reforming high schools around career academies.

Jobs are relevant politically, but more significantly, they’re necessary for Americans to live decently. Jobs pay for food, rent or mortgage, kids clothes and shoes, and for the Sunday barbecue. Jobs are directly related to individual’s self-esteem. Jobs, however, have changed. You can’t just show up and get a good job anymore. You need substantial technical and soft employment skills. High school career academies provide over 900 hours of occupational education. This preparation is necessary in today’s world in order to work. Clifton argues that America will need more entrepreneurial effort in the future to compete with the rest of the world. This can be taught as part of career academies. When taught in a career academy, the idea of starting your own business is very relevant to young people.

Clifton is tough on today’s American high schools. He says, “The problem is, approximately 30% of the students drop out or fail to graduate on schedule. About 50% of minorities are dropping out. This gives the rest of the developed world a huge advantage over the United States in the upcoming economic wars. If this problem isn’t fixed fast, the United States will lose the next worldwide, economic, job based war because its players can’t read, write, or think as well as their competitors in a game for keeps—their talent doesn’t get maximized. Even more deadly, Gallup suspects that those students spirits and hopes are being irreparably broken.” His concern is an accurate representation of the enormity of the problem right now in American high schools.

Then he gets further into the nub of the educational problem of America’s high schools, “The reason they lose hope of graduating is because they don’t feel excited about what’s next in their lives. The moment they feel that despair about what’s ahead they start psychologically dropping out. Having no vision or excitement for the future is the cause of the dropping out of school. Students need to be rescued at or before the moment they lose hope in the future. And when they aren’t caught in time, they don’t just drop out of school, they drop out life.” The primary motivating factor of career academy students is seeing real-life jobs they can get after their high school education. Career academies have real working people in the career area come onto their campus to speak to the students. The speakers bring a sense of reality and relevance to the schooling experience. Career academies also have actual paid internships that provide real experiences and confidence in their employment future. This is where the career academy overcomes the student despair issue Clifton points out as the cause of the problem in today’s high schools. Career academy students are engaged in their learning. This cogent understanding of the timing of addressing the high school problem makes it clear that we cannot wait for the community college. The largest dropout occurs in the ninth grade. Clifton is correct that addressing kid’s motivation must be accomplished early on in their educational experience.

Clifton goes on with an amazing level of understanding of the problem, “This is not a public schools problem. It is a whole city problem. Fixing the schools is about taking your whole city to war against the drop out problem–one student at a time, one school at a time, one city at a time.” The problem, however, is much larger than the dropouts. The supermajority of kids will not ever graduate from college and they require serious job skills. The reality is that high schools in America are isolated (as are school boards and school superintendents) and have little connection to the work world. This isolation has led to an academic elitism unrelated to the real world. This lack of connection to the real world harms students. Millions of young people are leaving high schools completely unprepared to work. Mayors, city council members, business leaders, labor, and community organizations all must step forward to work together toward a solution.

Clifton explains the jobs problem really well. The solution is something new to him that can largely solve the problem that he describes. Career academies can create a high- skilled workforce. Career academies can teach entrepreneurs of the future. The leadership to expand career academies to scale, however is not on the horizon. Thus, my take away from the book is that he is described the problem beautifully, but has neglected to address the specific use of career academies to solve the problem.

James C. Wilson, Ed.D.

Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Education or Incarceration? available on

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Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Eucation or Incarceration? on
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