New Visions: Education and Training for an Innovative Workforce

Publication August 1997

The world seems to be changing around us at a breakneck pace. Sometimes that sense of rapid change is abstract, gathered from articles and commentary proclaiming the onrush of the future. But at other times the speed of economic and social change takes on a very concrete form. For participants flying into San Diego for the United States-European Union Joint Conference on Education and Training, one inkling of the future occurred while they were still at the arrival lounge of the airport. The transportation shuttle they were to take from the airport to the hotel had suddenly merged with another firm and changed its van fleet’s name overnight. Participants had to adapt to unexpected change just to find transportation to the conference hotel.

San Diego provided an ideal setting for this conference on adapting education and training to develop innovative work forces. From the moment conference delegates boarded the renamed vans, it was apparent that this was a city in flux. San Diego is a stunningly beautiful city perched on the California coast, with a deep harbor and an abundance of sun, but participants rapidly discovered that even paradise has its problems: unemployment, industrial restructuring following deep defense cuts, changes in international trade, and immigration pressures. Education is one of the most important weapons San Diego has in its arsenal to tackle these challenges.

Prior to the start of the conference, participants had the opportunity to tour the colleges of the San Diego Community College District (SDCCD). Many European Union (EU) delegates reacted to the tour with great excitement: the San Diego community colleges are living the future. The colleges are already focusing on the future “visions” that the conference set as its themes:

  • student diversity and “inclusivity” issues
  • local leadership challenges
  • involvement of small- and medium-sized employers in school-to-work programs

The SDCCD students were remarkably diverse with respect to age, gender, race, and learning needs. The local leadership has been strong and has had to respond to huge economic upheavals from unemployment and defense cuts. In addition, the colleges have recognized the vital importance of serving the training needs of local small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

As the conference began, it was clear the conference planners had chosen timely and important themes for both American and European participants. And San Diego proved to be a fertile ground for exploring the issues in a local context.

U.S.-EU Joint Conferences on Education and Training: An Evolving Partnership

The San Diego conference marked the second of three planned meetings between the U.S. and EU on these topics. A conference in Noordwijk, The Netherlands, in 1992 had laid the groundwork for U.S.-EU collaboration, following the 1990 Transatlantic Declaration on education and training cooperation between the two entities. Therefore, the San Diego conference, in a sense, represented the midpoint in the plans. Both sides were now beyond the introductions, beyond the discussion of terminology and definitions. It was time to roll up sleeves and get to work. As the collaboration begins to take on concrete form via consortia for international U.S.-EU student exchanges in vocational and higher education, for example, both groups need a practical understanding of each other’s approaches, limitations, and possibilities.

2. From Conference to Volume

This volume grows out of the San Diego conference, but it extends considerably beyond a conference proceeding. It provides a comprehensive treatment of the challenge of adapting education and training to create an innovative work force. The conference program featured three sets of papers, covering the three conference themes: student diversity and “inclusivity,” local leadership challenges, and the involvement of SMEs in education and training programs. This volume represents significant revision and reformulation of the presenters’ ideas and contains some additional material.

McFarland, L. (Ed.). (1997, August). New visions: Education and training for an innovative workforce. Berkeley, CA: National Center for Research in Vocational Education.

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