ICAS Special Contribution

No. 2002-0817-SAC


Shinae Chun

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

965 Clover Court, Blue Bell, PA 19422

Tel : (610) 277-9989; (610) 277-0149
Fax: (610) 277-3289
Email: icas@icasinc.org

Biographic Sketch & Links: Shinae Chun

[Editor's note: We gratefully acknowledge a contribution of this paper of Shinae Chun to ICAS which she delivered at a luncheon, "A Centennial Celebration of Korean Immigration to the United States", August 17, 2002, held in Falls Church, Virgina. The conference was jointly sponsored by CCKI and ICKS. sjk]


Shinae Chun
Director, Women’s Bureau
U.S. Department of Labor

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 message.

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 appointments 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 post.

According to the 2000 Census:

  • The majority of Asian and Pacific Islanders live in three states--mainly California, New York, and Hawaii.
  • The largest percentage of Asian and Pacific Islanders (16.8 percent) are between the ages of 35-44.
  • Sixty-six percent are in the labor force—working or looking for work.
  • One-third of employed Asian and Pacific Islanders work in the high-paying executive, administrative, and managerial occupations.
  • 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 degree.
  • The median income for Asian and Pacific Islander men was $41,654 in 2000; $31,917 for Asian and Pacific Islander women.
  • 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 Economic Security 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 1999, entitled 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 by knowledge. The influence of technology will go beyond new equipment and faster communications, as 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, information-based industries".

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 (Bransford, 1999). There are three clearly identifiable skills that I believe are crucial to success in this new era:

  • Digital Age Literacy (Technological Knowledge)
  • Effective Communication (Communication Skills)
  • Inventive Thinking (Thinking Analytically/Logicall ->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 in society.

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 (Rafferty, 1990).

For success in the Digital Age, this translates into various media and presentation formats, 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 imagery dramatically when viewing the World Wide Web. Through advances such as digital cameras, graphics 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 words.

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 the breakthrough. Information competency describes how information is accessed, evaluated, and efficiently and effectively used to communicate to a desired audience. How that information is communicated 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.

Global/Cultural Awareness

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 integrated. Lester Thurow (2000) 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 witnessing big changes, a leapfrogging and interaction between technologies in six related areas: telecommunications, microelectronics, computers, new materials, robotics, and biotechnology. 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, and competition 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, ideas and cooperative efforts.

Inventive Thinking

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, solve problems, manage and retrieve information, and communicate effectively. By mastering information problem-solving skills, students will be ready for an information-based society and a technological workplace."

This statement couldn’t be more on target. Today’s technologically-charged environment requires 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, and invent 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 of commerce and culture, the explosive development of information technologies, and other great technical and social transformations. Education no longer means primary, secondary, and post-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.

Last update 1/30/2009 jdb

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