Stop brain-draining our future
Very few of us think about the country’s brain drain. We forget that the result of innovation in our country over the last two centuries has been a broadly shared quality of life that no country in history has matched.
Current trends indicate that all of this is rapidly coming to an end. Is our destiny then to become a second-rate country with an agrarian economy comprised of mega-farms owned by multi-national corporations?
Starting about 40 years ago we also came to believe that Johnny and Jane do not want to burden themselves with the education required for wealth creating technical careers. Today’s data suggests that lucrative careers in wealth organization and distribution can be had more easily – we’ll instead become middle-men and managers of service businesses, or lawyers and make a ton of money by just suing the bejeezus out of each other.
The point is that the overwhelming number of our country’s jobs have always trickled down from domestic (instead of imported) technological innovation. In the last 50 years the level of such innovation has required skills much harder to come by and not even accessible to over half of our children. I would argue that:
• 1) We have a brain drain due to fewer U.S. kids going into high-tech careers
• 2) The resulting brain drain will have near-term cataclysmic results on our quality of life
• 3) The hope for a better future starts with action at the grass roots level instead of waiting for more government programs of the kind that got us into this situation in the first place.
So how exactly are we doing today to maintain our technological competitiveness? Most of our primary and secondary public schools have long lost the edge required to teach technical skills and our culture largely ignores accomplishments in fields other than athletics, entertainment, and the ‘arts.’ And when a high school student does go light on science and math, his/her choice for a career in technology innovation is effectively eliminated forever.
When we look at our universities and colleges, the good news is that they still offer many of the finest technical degrees (especially at the graduate level) in the world. The bad news is that the number of technical degrees awarded keeps shrinking and most of those go to foreign nationals.
Sen. Joe Lieberman indicates in a recent piece that during this commencement season thousands of foreign-born students will be handed American diplomas – and then will be told to pack their bags and leave the country. Because of our antiquated immigration laws they and their world-class educations will go back to their home countries to compete against U.S. businesses.
Meanwhile at Microsoft alone, 3,000 domestic jobs remain unfilled. And the forecast is even worse. The Labor Department estimates the U.S. economy will create more than 1.4 million jobs in the computer and information science industries alone over the next 10 years. That’s enough jobs to absorb a 75 percent increase in the number of U.S.-born computer science and math graduates – at a time when the number of American students studying science and technology continues to fall.
The young scientists and engineers of Poland, India, Romania, Estonia, China, Norway, etc. will be more than happy to take these jobs inevitably outsourced overseas because we have run out of qualified people. What the good senator did not point out in his May 25th Investors Business Daily article is that our leading high-tech companies have already established multiple technology ‘skunkworks’ (groups of scientists and engineers doing focused R&D) on foreign soil in order to remain competitive in global markets.
What then should we do at the grassroots level across the land to change course? First, we must establish programs in math and science that will creatively challenge the smart kids among us. We must also recognize that these programs will discriminate in favor of the smart kids and that not all youngsters will be able to enter or compete.
No more than any athletic program beyond middle school, will this be an equal outcome effort. The participating group of youngsters may not represent any of the broad demographic statistics of the land. And like in the NBA, acceptance on a team will be decided on merit which most of us understand that nature does not distribute evenly.
We should also recognize that we already have scores of programs to involve kids in non-technology pursuits at all levels of ability wherein we volubly celebrate their achievements no matter what their performance level. Those bases have been covered for decades with public and private funding. Ultimately we will all benefit from encouraging the smarter kids among us by the implementing similar programs in science and technology.
At all stages, focus resources on kids who have the identified and/or demonstrated ability for technical subjects as evident in their daily school performance. We must remember that these will be merit-based programs to fill a critical and growing void. Early and broad-based introduction to the joys of science and math is the equal opportunity part of the program.
At best, the capture rate for identifying and motivating such kids will be below one out of 10. But these are the 10 percent who, properly nurtured through high school, can go on to get the education and do the jobs needed to provide the quality of life and environment that every generation of Americans hopes will continue to be theirs.
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