U.S. schools need to change their ways in preparing students for future careers, as rapid globalization and growth-starved economies undermine dated notions about education and jobs, local business leaders were told Wednesday.

Also, the nation needs to invest more in its roads, ports and other forms of infrastructure to remain competitive in a shrinking world in which America is no longer the only economic superpower, futurist Parag Khanna said.

Asked what local leaders can do to ensure that their regions remain viable and successful, Khanna responded with what he acknowledged was a "trite" answer: education.

Schools need to do more to help students identify interests that are most likely to lead to jobs and careers that are less prone to outsourcing or overseas competition, he said, adding, "You have to find your own niche."

"Every young person today ... needs to know what they're good at," he said. "You can't wait until graduate school."

Khanna said the U.S. education system needs to "recalibrate" and put more emphasis on vocational studies that support jobs in specific, fast-growth sectors.

Germany is a prime example, he said, because of its success at identifying and training workers for its thriving world-class automotive industry.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is lagging behind hungry, emerging economies in an area that is critical to future growth, Khanna said.

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"We don't spend nearly enough on infrastructure," he said.

But other nations are. Khanna pointed to eastern Europe and Asia, where big investments in rail-line improvements are creating an "Iron Silk Road" that will made it easier for the two regions to trade goods.

Khanna, a senior fellow with the New America Foundation, was the speaker at the Charleston Regional Development Alliance's annual update at Trident Technical College.