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The way to jobs

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Back-to-work means back-to-school.

This might be a slogan for the urgency of education to aid today's jobless - some 30 million people in the Western industrial countries alone. And to forestall unemployment shock in the future.

The demanded education ranges far beyond the schools. It reaches to the homes and workplaces where individual study and organized training and retraining can take place. But perhaps never before has there been more symbolic clout in America's return to the classroom on the heels of Labor Day. Tomorrow's dramatic array of new jobs - as old jobs fade - requires preparation now.

The danger to be avoided is that recession tempts employers and governments to stint on education and training - the development of human capital - just when it is most needed. A vicious cycle can result. A present shortage of skills heads off investment in industry or services that would create more jobs. And a failure to prepare workers during hard times leads to a future shortage of skills when better times return.

The need to prevent such an outcome is heightened in a rapidly changing labor scene during what has been called the second industrial revolution. The rise of computer technology is accompanied by a massive shift of the workforce from manufacturing to information and other services.

Already the help-wanted ads hint at the new market for skills. They are not all in the sci-fi realm. The global increase in population will place a premium on housing, not only new but rehabilitated. According to one occupation forecast, the United States alone will have a demand for 1,750,000 housing rehabilitation technicians in 1990. What about the robot takeover of manufacturing? The care and feeding of robots will produce US jobs for an estimated 1,500,000 technicians. As solar and other new energy sources are more extensively marketed, there will be 1,500,000 jobs for energy technicians. Never mind the new opportunities in lasers, genetic engineering, holography, and other emerging fields.

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