In Charlotte last night, former President Bill Clinton delivered what policy wonks have waited to hear: POLICY! His speech touched on a number of themes, from the economy to health care to national security policy, as he built his case to voters as to why he thinks they should support President Obama’s re-election bid. But one section of his remarks seemed as if it were pulled right from the TechElect playbook.
We do need more new jobs, lots of them, but there are already more than three million jobs open and unfilled in America today, mostly because the applicants don't have the required skills. We have to prepare more Americans for the new jobs that are being created in a world fueled by new technology.
President Clinton echoed what tech leaders – in the corporate and advocacy worlds – have been stating for some time. Even in this period of slower-than-anyone-wants economic recovery, tech jobs are open and ready to be filled. Employers are near desperate for a higher skilled workforce. According to Change the Equation, STEM job postings have outnumbered the STEM unemployed during the past three years. And, as the U.S. economy expands investments in tech-driven efforts like next-generation transportation, health IT, smart grid electrical systems, and high-speed broadband, the demand for a workforce with the skills to match 21st century demands will only increase.
What's the answer? As we’ve laid out in the TechElect platform, America’s leaders should boost science, technology, engineering, and math skills in our students and protect America’s technological leadership through strategic investments in scientific research. To do that, we recommend two topline policy approaches:
- Empower U.S. students from primary to higher education to excel in STEM fields; and,
- Invest in basic research in U.S. universities, which often lead to next generation innovations and new businesses and jobs.
Even in tough budgetary times, the federal government must make these investments a priority in order for the U.S. to maintain its innovation leadership role in the global economy. But, sadly, we know that America is falling behind. China passed the United States in the number of STEM college graduates in 2007 – the same year in which the recession began. Today, four million Chinese citizens are enrolled in two- or four-year engineering programs -- 10 times more than in the U.S. And, while 15.5 percent of U.S. college degrees are STEM-related, in China, it is 52.1 percent.
Back to President Clinton from last night:
That's why investments in our people are more important than ever. The president has supported community colleges and employers in working together to train people for open jobs in their communities. And, after a decade in which exploding college costs have increased the drop-out rate so much that we've fallen to 16th in the world in the percentage of our young adults with college degrees, his student loan reform lowers the cost of federal student loans and even more important, gives students the right to repay the loans as a fixed percentage of their incomes for up to 20 years. That means no one will have to drop-out of college for fear they can't repay their debt, and no one will have to turn down a job, as a teacher, a police officer or a small town doctor because it doesn't pay enough to make the debt payments. This will change the future for young Americans.
Both the Democratic and Republican party platforms focus on the importance of innovation and STEM fields to America’s economic future. Governor Romney has talked about it; President Obama has talked about it. Let’s stop talking and start doing. It’s time for our leaders to make the investment in the future of our children and our economy.