Early education

Any discussion of work force development that does not include early childhood education is shortsighted.

The focus of work force development has historically been on adult or near-adult training, apprenticeships and vocational counseling. However, current thinking includes the critical nature of brain development and the influences of early childhood on success.

Personality dispositions, including many exhibited in the workplace, are developed early in life. Dispositions are habits of mind-consistent ways of responding to situations, regardless of emotional state.

These personality traits impact the ability and inclination of people to utilize their skill sets. A child might have the ability to read, but not the disposition. The child rarely reads because disposition to read is weak, has been damaged or has not been acquired. In the workplace, this may mean talented workers may not demonstrate skills because of a lack of conscientiousness or disposition to work.

Research recognizes five primary personality traits as possible predictors for employee competence.

* Emotional stability — Being calm and self-confident vs. anxious or depressed

* Extraversion — Being outgoing, assertive and positive with others

* Openness — Being creative, curious and possessing broad interests

* Agreeableness — Being cooperative, warm and agreeable

* Conscientiousness — Demonstrating responsibility, dependability, organization, initiative and integrity

These personality traits and interpersonal skills develop early. A child is more influenced and prepared for the world of work during his first five years than at any other time. It takes an entire childhood to develop, refine and internalize the work ethic instilled in the first five years.

Critical skill sets contribute to the work ethic characteristic of the ideal employee. These skills include the ability to:

* Work as a member of a team

* Communicate in a variety of effective modes

* Interact respectfully with people who are different and to appreciate and value their differences

* Resolve conflict and creatively solve problems

* Embrace a challenge, view it as opportunity and persevere

Children also learn the rewards of competence and the nature and benefits of making mistakes. Just watch a 1-year-old learn to climb steps for evidence of the evolution of this work ethic as the child tries an approach, fails, tries again a different way, learns from his mistakes and finally masters the stairs. Pain, frustration and failure do not cause the child to avoid the stairs.

This effort is mediated as the child negotiates the process to ensure eventual success. In fact, the only thing that is not negotiable for a well-nurtured and educated child is success.

By age 6, children must develop key personality competencies that serve as building blocks for mature interpersonal skills. By age 3, 85 percent of the neurological pathways of the brain are developed. This development is strongly influenced by a child’s environment and the stimulation received or lack of it.

Quality programs in which the staff is trained in early childhood education and child development stimulate and reinforce brain and personality growth. The impact of these educators has far-reaching, lifelong effects.

Today’s young children are developing the attitudes and dispositions that will determine the success of America’s work force in 2022. Business leaders who support early childhood programs in their communities stand to reap the benefits of this investment in the quality of the work force of the future. This is an abridged version of an article written collaboratively by Sherry Cleary, MS, assistant professor, School of Education, and director, University Child Development Center, and Karen Altares, MSW, project coordinator, Education Policy & Issues Center. For the full-text version of the original article, visit www.epi-center.org.

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