In the northern California community where Manuel Perry grew up, if any adult caught him walking the streets during school hours, he would be interrogated as to why he wasn't in school.

If Perry didn't have a good reason for missing his school lessons, he would be sent home and spanked.Educating youth was considered every adult's responsibility - not just that of parents and schoolteachers.

A nationally renowned futurist, Perry predicts that unless today's adults assume more leadership, America's education system will continue to deteriorate and the nation's courts will be inundated with dropouts unable to cope in 21st century society.

Addressing more than 250 jurists attending the Justice in the 21st Century conference at the University of Utah Tuesday evening, Perry called for more "pro-active" rather than "reactive" leadership style to guide the courts into the future.

Perry is the manager of Human Resource Planning at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and teaches at California State University, Hayward.

He asked judges, "Who are you mentoring to replace you? Are you willing to take risks to prepare for the future?"

In California, the average cost to warehouse a juvenile offender is $30,000 annually. "It's far cheaper to run a kid through the education system than through the criminal system . . . If you're looking to take the state court system forward, you must educate the youth," he said.

Today, statistics show that 29 percent of American high school students drop out. One-third of school-age kids are at risk because they are victims of crime, they become pregnant, fail classes, abuse drugs or their parents are chronically unemployed, Perry said.

Perry, a former biochemist for NASA, predicted that out-of-state employers will "court" Utah's youth to fill future jobs.

By the year 2000, because of lower birthrates, the country's young work force will decline by 2 million. Also, the complexion of the work force will change radically in the 21st century and will be composed of 47 percent women, 20 percent minorities, 13 percent immigrants and 20 percent other.

Utahns should prepare youths for the future work force by teaching them to "look at kids of different races with a positive perspective. Kids need to appreciate differences," he said. "Racism is on the rise."

Just as today's youth need to look beyond America's boundaries in preparing for work, judges, lawyers and court officials have to think "globally" to meet future challenges facing the justice system. The trends that mold society eventually end up in the courtroom. All organizations will have to have a global perspective to survive coming changes, said Perry.

So what kind of education degree and talents are employers of the future going to value?

A help-wanted ad in the Deseret News in the year 2000 could likely read: "WANTED FOR MANAGEMENT TRAINING - college graduate with a liberal arts degree. Computer literate. Flexible personality. Good communication and people skills. Ability to speak many languages - bilingual at least."

The fields of medicine, business and computer services will comprise 50 percent of all new jobs in the 21st century, said the futurist.

And surprisingly, Perry predicts a shortage in a profession that currently complains of oversaturation - law. Lawyers will find themselves as scarce as nurses are now, he said.

Jan Thompson is on a leave from the newspaper on a national State Justice Institute fellowship to cover the "Doing Utah Justice" project.