McKinsey Again!

The McKinsey&Co “machine” is beginning to bug me!  Nearly every week I receive a new research article or “thought piece” in my email-box.  There was a time a few years ago when I welcomed the occasional article from the minds of McKinsey&Co.  But with a new article appearing sometimes twice weekly, I wonder about the quality and depth of their research and quite frankly whether or not they are becoming more of a publishing house than the CEO’s “extra brain”.

And the recent article on Boosting Productivity in US Higher Education is the straw that broke my back and prompted this blog (not quite a rant; well you decide).  The opening line of the article is what set me off:  “The United States needs more college graduates.”  The next few sentences moved me even further to reaching for my keyboard.  “Opinions vary on exactly how many, but McKinsey estimates that the nation will need an additional one million each year by 2020 to sustain its economic health. That would mean increasing today’s annual total—2.5 million—by 40 percent.”

Now I am definitely all in favor of boosting productivity; after all it’ what I’ve worked to accomplish my entire career. And I do understand the value of a good education.  But do we really need that many more college graduates?  Maybe there is an additional education solution to US (and global) economic health that McKinsey has overlooked.

I’ve got a real world view of college graduates, especially since I see boatloads of college grads who can’t find jobs and wind up working in restaurants and bars.  What’s wrong?  Aren’t they smart enough? Are they lazy? They are actually very smart and very ambitious.

It’s not a brains or motivation issue; it’s a curriculum issue.  Where are the immediate jobs for philosophy majors?  How about sociology or psychology majors?  And history majors; where do they go to find an entry level job in their field of study? Do we really need more college graduates without practical life skills? Again, don’t get me wrong, I understand the value of a broad education, but a productive economy is built on two high performance engines: innovation and infrastructure.

Let’s get real.  What the US and the world needs is more graduates with skills that matter.

And for that reason I am in favor of increasing the number of trade and vocational schools and redirecting students towards skills that matter for today’s economy.  I believe that not only would the world be better off with more vocational graduates, but a lot of grads would be as well.  We all know of students who aren’t really motivated or academically inclined and as a result flounder in our academic colleges and universities.  In fact, one of the issues cited in the McKinsey report is the high percentage of college students who drop out.  Many of them would be much better off in trade and vocational schools. There is also the real issue of a young person’s pride in being able to do meaningful work that matters.

To help improve the economy we need to turn out graduates with high level welding skills who can help rebuild infrastructure so goods and trade can move rapidly and safely.  We need electricians and plumbers, carpenters, joiners, metalworkers, fabricators and a host of other skills required for real and sustainable economic health.

Without infrastructure global commerce cannot be efficient and productive.  The economy is not powered by bankers and psychology majors as much as it is by workers with skills that keep our transportation and global infrastructure working.  The rail system needs upgrading in nearly every country.  We need bigger and better recycling and sewage processing facilities.  These are not built by college grads with history or philosophy degrees but equally bright grads from trade schools and vocational colleges.  We need nurses and medical technicians more than we need history majors. And if we are going to invest heavily in alternative energy like solar, geothermal and ocean technologies, it won’t be philosophy majors who fit the pipes and calibrate the equipment.

Unless we find a balance between higher education and trade/vocational schools the US is in danger of winding up like Qatar and Dubai.  There are about 250,000 Qataris but the population of Qatar is 1.6 million.  And Dubai’s demography is similar. Who are the majority?  The imported laborers and service workers, without whom the country would quickly return to a desert.  Who built the air conditioned malls?  Who fixes the plumbing and keeps the artificial snowmaking equipment running?  Qatar and Dubai are unsustainable without the workers who keep the infrastructure.

And I am afraid the US may follow suit if we fix our sights on cranking our more college grads and not enough trade and vocational school grads.  McKinsey consultants should do some real work for a change instead of conceptual analysis and they might gain even clearer perspectives on how to improve our economic health!

Tight Lines . . .

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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5 Responses to McKinsey Again!

  1. Bill Collins says:

    Bravo! Reality–What a concept.


  2. Pingback: A McKinsey survey I’d like to see . . . | John R Childress . . . rethinking leadership

  3. Pingback: Not McKinsey again . . . Upwards Feedback | John R Childress . . . rethinking leadership

  4. Pingback: Why the American University of Beirut? | John R Childress . . . rethinking leadership

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