As a technology leader who relies on and believes wholeheartedly in diversity and inclusion it is hard not to want more insight into our election results – summed up brilliantly by my friend and Box CEO Aaron Levie. Many people are upset and trying to come to terms with the outcome. After much thought, I have come to believe the election results simply reflect individual priorities, needs and desires.
If you’re a coal miner in Pennsylvania, your priority is to keep a decent paying job; it’s probably not going to be tackling climate change. If you’re a millennial in San Francisco working at a tech company with a 6-figure salary, then your priority might be something loftier like social change. Priorities are simply relative to where people are in their life and it always starts with getting the most basic needs met. Remember Maslow’s Hierarchy? Pretty logical stuff.
Many of us had a hard time with some of President-Elect Trump’s actions and comments during the campaign. Obviously, many others were willing to overlook the “rough edges” and elect him. As I thought more about it - it is not that surprising. For a person who has lost their high-paying job in auto manufacturing or coal mining, the most important thing is electing a President that claims they can bring these jobs back. To them, that is what it would take to “make America great again.” I am sure many blame bad trade deals and illegal immigrants for their loss of prosperity. It makes perfect sense to ignore a few imperfections in the person that promises to make things great again.
The bad news is that this ship has sailed and we are never going back to the “good ole days.” No amount of deportations or protectionism can turn back the clock. In fact, attempting to isolate the U.S. from the rest of the world will almost surely do more harm than good. But there is a silver lining - technology advancements have had a major positive impact and will continue to create even more jobs. So Mr. Trump – if you really want to make America great again, technology must remain a driving force. We need a plan for more – but different - growth. We must evolve to grow. And our definition of “greatness” must evolve as well.
That said, those of us who espouse the merits of technology and innovation must be sensitive to how modernization and globalization can negatively impact individuals and existing societies. For example, within the next 10 years, autonomous trucks are likely to become an integral part of our delivery infrastructure. Their creators envision higher degrees of safety, better economics for trucking companies and lower costs for consumers. However, I bet the truck drivers don’t feel the same optimism about the shift. If there is one thing the election has highlighted is that lots of U.S. citizens feel disenfranchised.
So President-elect Trump. Forget about forcing Apple to produce iPhones here. I mean, you yourself don’t produce one thing in the U.S. You will never be able to force companies to comply. But there are lots of things you can do to make America “better than before!”
1. Modernize the current U.S. student curriculum for the digital economy
As we develop automation to replace human labor, we need to think about how we can train and re-train people and build the skill sets we need for the future. Our education system is integral to our ability to maintain greatness. As we have advanced from the industrial era to the technology era our workforce needs have dramatically changed. Suffice to say that our education system has not transformed to meet these needs. To spend cycles debating things like Common Core and the voucher system is akin to debating the position of the lounge chairs on the Titanic.
Instead we must transform our current educational curriculum. My children had a mandatory choice beginning in 5th grade to learn either French, German or Spanish. But global commerce is done in English. Period. So let’s make computer languages, not romance languages, mandatory. And let’s start in Kindergarten. We must think about the workforce of the future and fulfilling those careers begins by preparing children in elementary school for the jobs that will be available by the time they finish college. And those jobs are going to be in the digital economy.
2. Invest in STEM education
“Over the past six years, 775,957 H-1B visas were issued to foreign workers” according to the State Department. And even so “employers still worry that there won’t be enough STEM graduates to fill IT and engineering jobs in the coming years” says Dawn Kawamoto, Dice Insights. “New data reveals that 86% of the total H-1B visas issued in 2014 for technology firms was used to hire IT professionals from India” (and another 5% from China) according to Computerworld.
U.S. companies imported nearly 800,000 jobs from overseas because the U.S. population lacks scientists and engineers. Imagine the results if we’d retrained those who lost their legacy-economy jobs and moved 800,000 more U.S. citizens into these competitive, high paying jobs?
We are obligated to our children to invest in their STEM education to make them more competitive and more prepared for the jobs of the future. We need to provide our students with the tools and resources to support the next generation of innovators. Without a quality STEM education for all children we will continue to fill the ranks of our labor force from overseas.
3. Year Round School
In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell tackles the tough question “Are Asian and Indian children smarter than kids in the U.S.?” Without taking you through his entire analysis the answer is simply NO. Gladwell’s analysis reveals that Asian and Indian children are not smarter, they just spend more time in school… a lot more time.
According to an Atlantic article from 1990 children in Japan are in school 243 days a year (compared with 180 in America) and that gap has only widened. In Japan formal education is then supplemented by attendance at ‘juku”. Jukus are the private, for profit tutorial services ubiquitous in Japan. “By ninth grade more than 47 percent of Japanese students attend juku, averaging five hours a week in addition to regular school time.” In this Atlantic ranking of hours in school, United States comes in 25th.
If we want our kids to be competitive in the digital economy they must attend more school, plain and simple. Summer vacations were the result of agricultural demand when children were needed to harvest summer crops. I don’t know anyplace where kids are still tilling fields. To better serve our children and prepare them for the jobs of the future (where they will be competing with the aforementioned Asian and Indian students) they need more education. The time has come to end the 3-month summer vacation.
4. Free college – Build a Wall?
Bernie Sanders took the relatively extreme position of “free college for everyone” which I give the same viability as Mexico buying a big wall - it is just political hype - I get it. That said, we do need to address both education costs as well as focus education funding where it will provide the most benefit.
College costs have risen faster than almost every other expense. I believe this is due in large part to not effectively integrating technology into education. There are colleges and universities that still require students to purchase artificially expensive textbooks even after they have paid tuition for a class. We need to drive a complete overhaul and modernization of our education system.
In terms of any government funding, it should be targeted for education for the jobs we need filled. Engineering, science, math, medicine, nursing, healthcare…and other degrees for which we need able bodies or for which we’re issuing H-1B visas. Yep, let’s help pay for those. Russian Lit. Philosophy. Music. Sorry, you’re on your own. OK cue the haters…I know I will get a lot of grief for this one…the whole liberal arts, education for education sake, thing. If your child loves music that’s great, they should study it but tax dollars should not be spent to pay for it.
I am optimistic about our future but the only path we can take is forward. Regardless of what many may want, many jobs are in the rear view mirror and are not coming back. A better way and in fact the only way, to “make this country great again” is to leverage technology and innovation to improve our lives and our society. We need our new leader to move us forward to the digital economy of the future and provide the foundation to help make all Americans a part of this future.