PREPARING KOREAN AMERICANS
FOR THE 21ST CENTURY WORKFORCE
The Honorable Shinae Chun
Director of the Women's Bureau
U.S. Department of Labor
A keynote speech presented at the Centennial Conference
on Korean Immigration to the
United States, THE KOREAN AMERICANS: PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE,
August 16-18, Fairview Park Marriott Hotel, Falls Church, Virginia.
A Brief Biosketch
On May 11, 2001, Shinae Chun was confirmed by the Senate as the 15th Director
Women's Bureau. Under the direction of Secretary of Labor Elaine
L. Chao, Ms. Chun
is the highest ranking Korean American in the Bush administration, and
heads the only
Federal agency charged with advocating on behalf of women in the workforce.
From 1991 to 1999, Ms. Chun was the Director of the Illinois Department
In 1982, Ms. Chun was one of the founding members of the Asian American
Council to Governor James R. Thompson. She has authored two books,
MOOUNTAINS OF MASAN TO THE LAND OF LINCOLN (1996) and
KOREAN CULTURE - A PASSAGE THROUGH KERMIT KINGDOM (1980).
Ms. Chun and her husband, Dr. Kyong Chul Chun, Senior Scientist at the
National laboratory, have two sons.
Text of the Keynote Speech
I am excited to be here today for several reasons. First of all,
I am pleased that I was invited to
address this very prestigious audience. Secondly, I have a message
that I feel very strongly
about. And finally, I am speaking to an audience who can take action
and help me spread my
I’d like to begin by saying how proud I am to serve President Bush as
Director of the
Women’s Bureau. I am the 15th Director of the agency, and the first
Asian American to hold
the position. Only in America could an immigrant such as myself be
given such an opportunity.
I am indebted to President Bush and Secretary Chao for their confidence
in my abilities and
support for my leadership.
It is an honor to serve alongside a President who understands just how
much Asian Americans
can contribute – and has no hesitation in appointing them to the top posts
in his administration.
The President has appointed 17 Asian Americans to PAS positions (Presidential
with Senate approval) – more than any other President in modern history.
10 of these are
Cabinet and sub-Cabinet positions. In the Cabinet, Secretary Norman
Mineta is the first Japanese
American to be appointed Secretary of Transportation. And my boss,
Secretary of Labor Elaine
Chao is the first Asian Pacific American woman ever appointed to a Cabinet
According to the 2000 Census:
1. The majority of Asians and Pacific Islanders live
in 3 states -- mainly in CA, NY, and HI
2. The largest percentage of Asian and Pacific Islanders
(16.8 percent) are between the ages
3. Sixty-six percent are in the labor force—working or looking
4. One-third of employed Asian and Pacific Islanders work
in the high-paying executive,
administrative, and managerial occupations.
5. 30 percent of Asian and Pacific Islanders 25 years of
age and older have at least a
bachelor’s degree and 11 percent have an advanced
6. The median income for Asian and Pacific Islander men
was $41,654 in 2000; $31,917 for
Asian and Pacific Islander women.
7. The median income for Asian and Pacific Islander families
was $61,511 in 2000.
Since these numbers are climbing, President Bush knows that the economic
strength of America
hinges on the economic strength of Asian Americans. As the President’s
Agenda states: “America has the most creative, productive and resilient
workforce in the world,
and the President wants to make sure that everyone who wants a job can
find a job”. This
certainly includes Asian Americans.
To meet his challenge, we need to understand that the skills required
in the workforce of the
20th century were drastically different in comparison to those required
today and those that will
be required in the future. It’s a new day, and every man, woman and
child has work to do if
they are going to be able to compete!
21st Century Job Skills
I came across a Department of Labor publication that was published in
Futurework—Trends and Challenges for Work in the 21st Century. It
said, “We are living
in a new economy -- powered by technology, fueled by information, and driven
The influence of technology will go beyond new equipment and faster communications,
work and skills will be redefined and reorganized.”
Secretary Chao recognized the same reality at the 21st Century Workforce
Summit last year,
where she stated: “Our economy is making a huge transition into high-skilled,
That is exactly what I’d like to discuss with you today. We know
that as society changes, the
skills that we need to negotiate the complexities of life also change.
In the early 1900s, a person
who had acquired simple reading, writing, and calculating skills was considered
literate. Only in
recent years has the public education system expected all students to learn
to read critically, write
persuasively, think and reason logically, and to solve complex problems
in mathematics and
science. There are three clearly identifiable skills that I believe
are crucial to success in this
1. Digital Age Literacy (Technological Knowledge)
2. Effective Communication (Communication Skills)
3. Inventive Thinking (Thinking Analytically/Logically:
Problem Solving: Original Ideas)
While we can safely say that these skills are being taught to our sons
and daughters on some
level, our imminent goal is to prepare every individual to thrive in a
21st century economy.
It is important for the educational system to make parallel changes in
order to fulfill its mission
Digital Age Literacy
The role of functional literacy—the ability to read, write, listen, and
speak—will always form the
basis for education, however, the Digital Age has created the need for
an expanded and more
complex definition. The restructured terminology has been labeled
“digital age literacy”.
What that means is that with our ever-changing language of hypertext,
images and icons, charts
and graphs and statistical data, what was once “basic” literacy must now
include the ability to
read and understand complex documents in an expanding array of technologies.
For success in the Digital Age, this translates into various media and
including visual competency -- the ability to decipher, interpret, and
express ideas using images,
graphics, icons, charts, graphs, and video.
The Internet provides a textbook example of this pervasive concept.
The convergence of voice,
video, and data into a common digital format has increased the use of visual
when viewing the World Wide Web. Through advances such as digital cameras,
packages, streaming video, and common standards for imagery, the use of
visuals is now
commonly used to communicate ideas. Experts in many fields are now using
visualization tools to
represent data in ways never before possible. From three-dimensional representations
of data to
geographical information systems to representation icons, a picture is
now truly worth a thousand
The same can be said for understanding technology – whether it is the
computer, its network, or its
applications. The accelerating rate at which technology is evolving
makes it difficult to stay current,
but it is crucial that we do, because technology changes the way we live,
the way we learn, and
the way we do business.
There are obvious links to technology – such as science and mathematics
– that we all recognize
and relate to. Barely a day goes by without a scientific breakthrough
of one type or another, and
the reporting of that breakthrough is naturally linked to mathematics at
some higher level. Easily
overlooked in that process, however, is the information approach that facilitated
Information competency describes how information is accessed, evaluated,
and efficiently and
effectively used to communicate to a desired audience. How that information
involves yet another vital link in the Digital Age chain.
Effective Communication—Social and Personal Skills
Teaming, Collaboration, and Interpersonal Skills
As telecommunications bring instantaneous, real-time communication to
mainstream society, time
has become a commodity. As a result, high-stakes decision-making has been
taken out of the
hands of executives and placed in the hands of the people on the front
lines. At the same time,
the plethora of information has created the need for specialization; however,
little is accomplished
without the “teaming” of these specialists to handle complex tasks in ways
that are efficient,
effective, and timely. The ability to cooperate as a member of a
group is as crucial to the success
of a project as is the specialization of its members. It is a skill
that should be taught early in life,
and one that requires practice in order to be successful.
Advances in technology have jump-started entirely new growth industries,
such as e-commerce,
and e-communications, creating firms and organizations that are truly globally
Thurow observes, "We are experiencing what I think historians of
the future will call the Third
Industrial Revolution, a transition to a knowledge-based economy. We are
changes, a leapfrogging and interaction between technologies in six related
telecommunications, microelectronics, computers, new materials, robotics,
These factors taken collectively are in fact driving the global economy."
This world-wide integration of commerce and trade has intensified the
need for cultural
awareness – a recognition and appreciation of the diversity of peoples
and cultures. The economy
now has a global base, with the U.S. concerned about interactions, partnerships,
from around the world. Today’s society should recognize and
encourage such engagements,
whether across town or across the globe. The learning that takes
place from both formal and
informal dialogues serves as a bridge to openness and receptivity for information,
In a position paper written for the American Association of School Librarians,
the author summarized
with precise accuracy the challenge before our future workforce:
"To be prepared for a future
characterized by change, students must learn to think rationally and creatively,
manage and retrieve information, and communicate effectively. By mastering
solving skills, students will be ready for an information-based society
and a technological
This statement couldn’t be more on target. Today’s technologically-charged
individuals to be able to plan, design, and manage in new ways—taking
into account contingencies,
anticipating changes, and understanding interdependencies within systems.
And while an education
was once something completed after a 4-year degree, we now know that in
order to be competitive,
workers must employ the "desire to know" as fuel for lifelong learning.
They must maintain their
curiosity and drive to stay current and informed. They must jog their
creative imaginations to
develop new and original ways to accomplish the old and ordinary.
Intellectual capital is a vital national resource. At a minimum,
employees at all levels of an
organization must understand its mission and should be wired into the information
flow of the
organization, enabling them to make sound decisions, creatively solve problems,
solutions with economic value.
The challenge facing education today is more varied than past challenges.
It encompasses the
rapidly increasing diversity of the nation's population, the growing internationalization
and culture, the explosive development of information technologies, and
other great technical
and social transformations. Education no longer means primary, secondary,
It means continuous, and life-long. There is no simple, universal
prescription for success, but a
focus on high standards for all, coupled with recognition of the need for
versatility in the face
of change, can help to prepare everyone for the demands of the 21st century.