To compete globally, America must upgrade the skills of 80 percent of its workers.

The skills most U.S. employees learned in school are simply inadequate, said former Secretary of Labor William Brock in a press conference Monday. Yet, a mere one-half of 1 percent of U.S. companies conduct 95 percent of the training nationwide."They're mostly high-tech companies, financial service and communications companies," Brock said. "Most service businesses do little training at all, and that's where all the employment is. That's where the growth is."

Brock delivered the keynote speech Monday at the 6th-annual Governor's Conference on Economic Development and Education at Little America.

Brock is a member of the Commission on the Skills of the American Work Force, which studied current and future skill needs of the nation's non-college work force. He said education and business must undergo massive reform to attempt to keep pace with major foreign competitors.

For example, the commission found average high school graduates will have four-to-six jobs and two-to-three careers in their lifetime.

"The nature of the world of work is changing. Technology is changing the way we do things," Brock said.

Yet, the commission found a certain complacency among Americans about skill levels and quality of education. When asked if their children were receiving a "world-class math education," 76 percent of the Chicago parents polled said "yes."

Brock said Chicago's school system - as most inner-city school systems - is "thoroughly inadequate."

By comparison, schools of Seoul, South Korea, consistently produce worldwide math champions. "Seventy-seven percent (of the Korean parents) said they were dissatisfied with the best in the world. We are thoroughly satisfied and complacent being 14th or 15th," he said.

While some states have adopted parts of the commission's recommendations to meet the nation's skill needs, wholesale changes will be slow to come.

"There has to be from the national (front) some assessment what the rest of the world is doing," Brock said.

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5-point improvement plan

1. Create a new educational performance standard geared to the highest in the world to be met by all American students at age 16.

2. Create new alternative learning environments to recover virtually all of U.S. dropouts and take responsibility for helping them meet the new educational standard.

3. Establish comprehensive job-specific and certification programs to "professionalize" non-college occupations.

4. Provide all employers with incentives to invest in further training and education of their front-line workers and with assistance reorganize work to make use of new workers skills.

5. Develop local employment and training boards to pull together pieces of the new high-performance education and training system.

Source: The Commission on the Skills of the American Work Force