Tough Choices or Tough Times

New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce visits UMass Boston

New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce visits UMass Boston

Taylor Fife

When Carl Garret needed gall bladder and shoulder surgery in September he was faced with the option of paying $20,000 for it or accepting a vacation to India, resort-style hospital treatment, and $10,000 cash for getting his surgeries done in New Delhi. The choice was obvious. Garrett was flown first-class to India with his family, saw the Taj Mahal, got his $10,000, and had his surgeries while his employer still saved $50,000.

With health-care prices in the United States skyrocketing more and more people have been leaving the country to have their surgeries. Anything from facelifts to coronary bypass surgery to root canals are free game. Wait times are shorter, service is better, prices are lower and you can even enjoy the rest of the week on the beach enjoying the sun.

But what about quality? Doesn’t the United States offer the best quality health care in the world? Well, not necessarily, even though some laws and standards do not apply overseas, accredited foreign hospitals and doctors are just as qualified as American ones.

But the healthcare industry is not the only sector losing out to foreign competition. Engineers in the United States make about $45,000 a year; Indians with the same qualifications do the same work for only $7,500.

Computer programmers in India, surgeons in Singapore and X-ray technicians in Taiwan all offer similar services for lower prices. For years manufacturing jobs have been shipped over seas, but now new technologies are allowing for higher-paid jobs to be outsourced as well. Telemarketing and headhunting phone calls are often made from Argentina and the next time you order from a fast-food drive through, you may be speaking to somebody in Bolivia.

All of these workers are just as qualified as American workers, but are willing to do the same jobs for less.

On February 28, state and national leaders came to UMass Boston to discuss the international job market and how Americans and Bay Staters can better compete.

UMass Boston and the Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy sponsored the event to get residents and leaders of Massachusetts talking about what our schools can do to keep Americans in high demand.

The New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce recently published “Tough Choices or Tough Times,” a report that explains the failings of our education system and calls for serious reforms in American education on all levels, from preschool to the university.

The panel that came to lead the discussion included a number of important Massachusetts decision makers. David Driscoll, Massachusetts commissioner of education, Thomas Payzant, former superintendent of Boston Public Schools, and Harry Spence, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Social Services, all attended. Marc Tucker, co-chair of the Commission and president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, and Bill Brock, secretary of labor under Ronald Reagan and former member of the Senate and House of Representatives, also came to discuss the report and its findings.

By hosting events such as these, Massachusetts seeks to be one of the first states to implement reforms suggested in the report.

The report calls for an entirely new education system in America that will send more kids to college, make them more creative learners and workers, and give them broader general knowledge. The report also calls for a new system of hiring teachers that would attract more talented individuals. The report suggests a plan that could pay some teachers as much as $110,000 a year.

Chancellor Collins welcomed the suggestions the commission and report had to offer. “In order for us to remain competitive in the 21st-century global marketplace, it is critical that we begin to address these topics now,” he said.