Educators and corporate leaders came together Oct. 3 to seek solutions to America’s growing need for a highly-skilled technology work force. The occasion was TechiesDay 2000, the second annual celebration designed to promote awareness of the opportunities that exist for students in the technology industry.
In classrooms across the country, technology workers focused on increasing technology awareness and readiness among K-12 students through workshops, demonstrations, and speeches.
And in Washington, D.C., policy-makers who have a major influence on education, government, and technology discussed long-term solutions for preparing and enticing kids into technology careers at the TechiesDay Workforce Development Summit.
“Everyone knows, and everyone in this room understands, we have to deal with the pipeline problem,” said Linda Roberts, special advisor for technology to the U.S. Department of Education and keynote speaker. “We have to engage fourth-graders now so they are there when you need them,” Roberts said, addressing company executives.
The nation’s schools must invest in high-quality math and science teachers and focus on high-standard, high-quality curriculum, Roberts added. Since technology in schools can amplify learning, schools should create an action-oriented, long-term strategy for preparing students to use these 21st-century tools.
Roberts acknowledged that some schools have greater needssuch as fixing leaky roofs and buying booksbut she said the problem is not simply one of economics.
“I don’t think those schools are lacking money, but rather they are lacking leadership,” Roberts said. When she toured some of the poorer rural schools in Mississippi Delta states, she said, she was surprised at their ability to use technology in learning.
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Norman Y. Mineta said the optimum time for reaching kids and getting them to consider high-tech careers is between the ages of 11 and 15. A new web site called GetTech.org will inform kids and their parents about jobs in the technology sector, he said.
“High-tech jobs are the fast growing part of our growing economy,” Mineta said. “Kids need to hear about technology and careers that are waiting for them way before they get to college. We are hoping that this web page will not only engage and entertain, but let kids know what opportunities are out there.” The site is directed toward both parents and students, since parents have an impact on students’ career decisions.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said the recent action by Congress to increase the number of H1-B visaswhich allow foreigners to fill U.S. technology-related jobsindicates shortcomings in the nation’s education system.
“It points to a real failing of our society that we have such pressure of seeking foreigners to fill those jobs,” Bingaman said.
Bingaman cited the recent Glenn Commission report on math and science education, called “Before It’s Too Late,” which indicates there has been a 21-percent drop in the number of math degrees and a 45-percent drop in the number of engineering degrees granted by U.S. colleges, although there are great opportunities for students who enter those professions.
“The report makes it clear that in order to increase the number of math and science workerswhich everyone agrees is importantwe need to [improve] math and science education,” Bingaman said. “This should be a wake-up call that this problem goes to the core of our economic future.”
A CEO panel at the summit floated ideas and concepts that both industry and education should adopt in an effort to increase the number of technology workers.
“If we say technology is sexy and chic, the demand [for it] will drive the change,” said Peter Crosby, chairman of Girl Geeks.
“I don’t see a willingness to take a risk, to make a change,” said Sherlye Bolton, CEO of Scientific Learning Corp. “Technology represents the largest, biggest change that has happened” to date.
Crosby said companies need high-tech employees who are well-rounded and socially adeptnot like the stereotype of the “computer geek” that has been associated with computer users in the past. “Being able to cross-train is a big boost for companies,” he said.
Others argued that industry, government, and education need to create partnerships to solve this problem.
“Schools can’t do it alone. Government can’t do it alone and business can’t do it alone. We need to create these alliances,” said Phyllis Eisen, executive director of the Center for Workforce Success and the National Association of Manufacturers.
Gene Longo, director of U.S. Operations for the Cisco Networking Academy program, accepted the TechiesDay Best Practices Award for the academy’s work in training and mentoring high school students.
Five technology professionals who won the TechieTeam 2000 competition, which recognized individuals for introducing students to technology, also received a new Compaq computer and more than $3,000 worth of Microsoft software.
U.S. Department of Education
U.S. Department of Commerce