A provocative article by David Wessel and Bob Davis in today’s Wall Street Journal highlights the research of Princeton Professor Alan S. Blinder on the loss of jobs to offshoring. Blinder finds that as many as 40 million American jobs will go to other countries as a result of the free trade policies of the U.S. The expected loss of jobs is nothing new—the novel twist is that Blinder foresees a big change in job security that goes beyond manufacturing industries: at risk are millions of service jobs such as programmers, bookkeepers, and financial analysts. What especially caught my attention were the last three paragraphs that discuss the implications for higher education in America:

“Mr. Blinder says there’s an urgent need to retool America’s education system so it trains young people for jobs likely to remain in the U.S. Just telling them to go to college to compete in the global economy is insufficient. …It isn’t how many years one spends in school that will matter, he says, it’s choosing to learn the skills for jobs that cannot easily be delivered electronically from afar….Mr. Blinder says the focus should be on jobs with person-to-person contact…”

This is a strong argument for studying business by the case method. Anything that increases person-to-person engagement—what we call “high engagement learning”—is bound to prepare one to succeed in fields where “high touch” interaction matters. Such fields include consulting, investment banking, creative design, new product development, selling complicated products and services, general management, and virtually all kinds of leadership. One of the relentless lessons of economics over the years has been that the greatest gains are to be found where the competition isn’t. Globalization and the “flat world” mean that the map of competition will change. I agree with Blinder that we must prepare the new generation of business professionals for the “flat world” and that the best way to do this is to deepen students’ skills in “high touch” interaction. Daily exercise in sorting out ambiguous and complicated problems with others, teamwork and team leadership, speaking in meetings, debate, persuasion, explanation of complex ideas, and making actionable recommendations become the foundation for “skills for jobs that cannot easily be delivered electronically from afar.” Darden’s case method learning experience is excellent preparation for the future that Professor Blinder sees.

Posted by Robert Bruner at 03/28/2007 10:08:55 AM