Use access key #2 to skip to page content.

TMFPostOfTheDay (< 20)

Education, Redux



September 14, 2011 – Comments (5)

Board: Macro Economics

Author: saunafool

Going back to the recent thread on U.S. education, I recently had a revelation.

During the thread, there were disparaging remarks about American education, kids getting degrees with the expectation of good paying jobs upon graduation, even if the degree was in some general soft skill like "communications."

My revelation came at the Hilton Americas in Houston where I am currently staying. This is a massive 5-star hotel and I was eating dinner in the restaurant the other night. Ordered a bottle of Pino Noir with a couple clients. The 25 year old waiter brings out the bottle and fills our wine glasses to the absolute top, like he were filling the ice water glasses.

As a comparison, I often stay at the Delta Hotel in Rotterdam. It is a modest 4-star hotel with a small restaurant. One night my waiter was offering me different wines to taste, asking my thoughts. I asked him how he learned so much about wine. He said he finished a degree in hotel management and was taking advanced studies in wine to become a somalier.

Now, I don't know if the kid who didn't know how to pour wine in Houston went to college, but I couldn't help but wonder how a 5-star hotel ended up with a waiter who had no clue how to pour wine.

Then it dawned on me. The American education system produces loads of kids who don't know anything. They have no marketable skills, no knowledge of any industry, and just a bunch of mashed up general education. They are not being driven into professions, and our society has evolved such that positions like waiters and retail work is not considered worthy of the title "profession" so even a 5-star hotel can throw a totally clueless, but well intentioned young man out on the floor or their restaurant to improperly fill wine glasses (while charging $48 for the cheapest bottle on the menu, I might add).

The second part of the revelation was during the dinner conversation with my client who has been a friend for the past 10 years. He was saying the maintenance managers at their largest production plant would not send engineers to this technical conference unless they could tell him specifically what they were going to learn and how much it would save the company.

Sorry, Mr. Manager, that's your job--to make sure your workers receive the training they need.

To put in context how ridiculous this was, the conference is the absolute best technical conference in the world for oil refinery machinery. There is no other technical conference plant machinery engineers need to attend, and attendance, including hotel and airfare would only be about $3000 per engineer (and a large refinery might only have 4 or 5 engineers who need to go). The engineers are in charge of machines that can cost $10 million where a process outage can cost $5 million and a fire can cost $100 million and lost lives.

How could they not receive $3000 of value for attending?

So, combined with my hapless waiter who obviously entered his job with no skills and had obviously received no training from his company, I sat dumbfounded, thinking about massive, complex, dangerous, billion-dollar operations trying to save a few thousand dollars by denying their engineers essential training.


5 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On September 14, 2011 at 3:17 PM, russiangambit (28.66) wrote:

US education is my pet peeve, personally. I spend so many years being educated, by different systems that I figured out what works and what doesn't.There are 2 major issues that I see that are specific to the US:1. Lack of the competition. Kids are taught that as long as you are doing your best, it is good enough. The assumption is that "the best" is at the required level. But you actually have to do better than your best every time, little bit by little bit. And you do that by compete ting. Kids need to be separated into classes according to intellectual ability and ability to work hard, and then you get the best results. Otherwise, the low achievers drag everyone down. My sister went to a school that worked like that. Every day they got 5-6 hours worth of homework. Those who couldn't keep up transferred to the regular classes with 2 hours of homework. Over 10 years the amount of work and effort compounds to something quite impressive.

2. Lack of specialization. Everything is so specialized in our modern world that to achieve something you have to concentrate just on one certain area. In addition, specialization helps you to achieve depth. In the US kids get to learn piecemeal but with no depth and thus they lack critical thinking skills. Without such skills they can never get out of mediocrity. And they don't even know what it is they don't understand or don't know. That is the scariest part. They don’t seem concerned that there are 2 billions Indian and Chinese and even if only 5% of them work extra hard at their education, that is still going to be more than the US workforce. They think the government somehow is going to take care of that fact.


Report this comment
#2) On September 14, 2011 at 4:31 PM, chk999 (99.96) wrote:

Spot on, saunafool. Our schools need to produce highly trained and highly competent people. Instead we produce people who feel good about themselves, even when they stink.

Report this comment
#3) On September 14, 2011 at 9:15 PM, Option1307 (30.65) wrote:

Good post and responses, +1.

Report this comment
#4) On September 15, 2011 at 1:07 AM, jc2311 (41.73) wrote:

There is more than one way to get an education.  Isn't there something wrong with a system that stops Jesus Christ from teaching ethics and Abraham Lincoln from practicing law because they don't have degrees?

Report this comment
#5) On September 15, 2011 at 11:57 AM, vriguy (63.38) wrote:

@jc2311 For every "Jesus Christ" teaching ethics or "Abe Lincoln" practicing law without a degree, there would be a million incompetent bunglers or smart swindlers all harming the public. Degrees don't guarantee competence and crooks can get degrees too - but a free-for-all would be worse, IMHO.

@russian  Spot on!

Report this comment

Featured Broker Partners