Does the Western World Lag Behind in Technical Skills?

The United States may be known as the “land of opportunity,” but a recent competition revealed American professionals have not capitalized on the opportunity to showcase their technical skills on a global scale.

The 2008 Worldwide Competition — conducted from October 2007 to May 2008 by Certiport Inc., a provider of digital literacy and desktop productivity training, assessment and certification solutions — challenged participants from around the world to demonstrate their skill sets pertaining to the Microsoft Office suite.

“I think the appeal of the competition [could be attributed to the fact that] the world has shrunk to an extent where people are trying to not only compare and contrast themselves inside a school district or even country, but they’re trying to find out how well they stack up with people in other parts of the world,” said David Saedi, president and CEO of Certiport Inc.

For half a decade, winners of the competition have emerged primarily from Far Eastern countries such as Thailand and Singapore. Why is it that the United States and other Western countries appear to be lagging so far behind?

“About 20 years ago, [the U.S.] led the world in so many different aspects, but I think we have [lost] that competitive edge,” Saedi said. “I think we’re still banking on our prior performances and world rankings. And I think that’s pretty dangerous. So hopefully [these] competitions showcase these kinds of trends and we’ll be able to [ensure that individuals] in the United States take a different look at the way in which achievements can be measured across the globe.”

There is a need for Western countries to train students to achieve technical skills proficiency, and it starts with math and science — two areas in which the United States historically has fallen behind.

“Even though the information age is upon us, I think the best, most productive information workers are now coming from the Far East,” Saedi said. “The need for us is to refocus our educational system on strengthening the approach to the acquisition of these skills. Scholastically, we’re not really focusing on the things that allow us to compete on a global scale as much as we should. That is a much wider problem in the Western world — especially in the United States — because our educational system is not centrally controlled.”

A country such as China has an advantage over the United States in that it is regulated by a single educational approach, Saedi said. This means students everywhere in China can benchmark themselves against a national standard.

“[Other countries are] very much looking outwards to benchmark their own educational systems, [whereas] in the United States, [each state has] established its own approach towards education,” Saedi said. “So the transferability of skills or the benchmarking of skills from state to state is not quite regulated the same way.”

– Deanna Hartley, dhartley@certmag.com

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Deanna Hartley

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