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The Struggle for Talent in North America

September 9, 2015 by Gabriel Zinny

Editor's Note: A key part of the Bush Institute’s work on improving economic growth across North America focuses on developing the human capital within Canada, the United States and Mexico. In this entry, guest blogger Gabriel Sánchez Zinny shares his views on ways to improve education systems across North America.  The author of Educación 3.0: The Struggle for Talent in Latin America, Zinny draws upon interviews with education entrepreneurs to explain his ideas for transforming schools.

With the shifting nature of the global economy, education quality is more important than ever. Both personal success and national competitiveness increasingly depend on what is known as 21st century skills. They qualify workers for success in industries that require value be added to a product. And those skills position them to be entrepreneurs and innovators.

The industrial revolution necessitated a paradigm shift in education in order to train a modern workforce. Similarly, the changes wrought by technology and globalization require that we rethink how we educate our citizens.

Hispanics in the U.S. and across Mexico face similar challenges. In the U.S., Hispanics, like other minorities, struggle with a stubborn “achievement gap” at the same time that their numbers and influence on the national economy has grown to unprecedented levels. And Mexican education performance trails behind international averages at the same time that a decade of robust growth has created a burgeoning middle class that demands better schools and more opportunity.

That is why education innovators matter now more than ever. Their stories can help influence and inspire the next generation of reformers to get involved in improving education from the bottom up.

Countries that have succeeded in advancing fundamental education reforms have anchored the process with coalitions that were able to challenge status quo while promoting political dialogue through ongoing negotiations.  Can such coalitions, rooted in political compromise, continue to promote innovation?

Relying on the same formulas from the past will not improve education. It is time to consider new models and encourage new players to get involved- especially the private sector, with its ability to provide innovative solutions for challenges new and old.

For my Education 3.0 book, I interviewed more than 100 education entrepreneurs in Latin America and the United States. They included non-governmental organizations, foundations, think tanks, startups and investors. All of them were committed to changing the status quo.

That is understandable: The stagnation of educational quality in our continent and the increasing education gap handicap the development of human capital. In return, this compromises the region’s performance and poverty reduction in the short, medium and longer term.

The promotion of human capital should be a collective responsibility. Collaboration between the private sector, including investors, companies and entrepreneurs, is vital. Schools, teachers, parents and organizations of the civil society are also called upon to take part in this initiative contribute to the solutions.

The private sector, both profit and nonprofit, has a major role to play. It has traditionally focused its efforts and resources on advocacy, promoting reforms and pressing governments to improve education quality and workforce training.

The private sector also is generally the main employer in a country and demands the largest proportion of available human capital. Naturally, private companies have insights into what skills and capabilities the education system should be providing.

Without more innovation in the education systems it will be very difficult for Mexico to catch up with the most developed economies and for the U.S. to break out of its stagnation in the realm of human capital development.