Ivar Berg: Education and Jobs; The Great Training Robbery

Ivar Berg's Education and Jobs; The Great Training Robbery begins its discussion of excessive credential requirements with the observation that the US fought WW II with an army composed largely of soldiers whose formal schooling had ended at high school or below. Berg was there. Berg observes that the US military during the war introduced new technologies like sonar and radar, and required that soldiers learn to use unfamiliar machinery. The unschooled army of 1940 rose to the task. In a later chapter, Berg recounts the response of the FAA to the expansion in air traffic. Just as corporals become sergeants when a war begins, when an army expands to meet a foreign threat, the FAA promoted experienced air-traffic controllers as new recruits assumed entry-level positions. FAA employment practices did not restrict the demanding and highly responsible job of air-traffic controller to college graduates. The unschooled recruits rose to the task.

Berg also observes that prior to around 1950 nursing, among other occupations, did not require a college degree. What does any employer get from a policy which restricts employment opportunities, in some lines of work for which a high school educuation or less suffices, to college graduates? Berg raises this question and leaves it unanswered. John Ray provided a link to this article on the expansion in college enrollment since WW II, which offers a likely explanation. Tax subsidies like the G.I. Bill may explain the increased consumption of college, but not the costly up-grading of hiring and promotion criteria by supposedly competitive private business. Tarran suggests that businesses use(d) college degrees to shield themselves from liability for racial discrimination under the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Where the representation by race of the workforce, which a company's internally-generated hiring criteria might (would likely) generate, might invite legal action, a college degree is a State-sanctioned criterion. Judges and college professors, as members of the highly-schooled population, could hardly discount the value of a college degree. College faculty, with their clear financial interest in excessive credential requirements, allied with personnel managers in the corporations' self-protective strategy. In plain words, companies contracted-out pre-employment screening to (State-run) high schools and universities.

Berg observes that the K-Ph.D. education industry uses degrees as employment criteria for the instructors whom it hires. Berg also mentions that advanced degrees contribute nothing to teacher effectiveness. More recently, Joanne Jacobs provided a link to work which supports that conclusion.

Berg acknowledges a distinction between "schooling" and "education", and between "education" and "experience", but consistently uses "education" when he clearly intends "schooling". This blog raised the issue of the difference between "education" (or "schooling") and experience here.

As I wrote here and here, it does not take 12 years to teach a normal child to read and compute.

John Ray reviewed Berg's book here.

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