WAGUESPACK: Our High-Tech World

What does high-tech look like to you?

Many people think of high-tech as the gadgets and gizmos that have grown to dominate all facets of our daily lives. It wasn’t that long ago that we used our phones to talk, watched TV in real-time and used our computers to work at the office. Now, we usually mix all of those things into one mobile device and can’t remember how we ever got along without it.

My kids have no idea what life was like before being surrounded by high-tech solutions for everything. It is a daily battle trying to teach them how to balance this 24/7 technology temptation with good old-fashioned talking to family or playing outside with friends. The American household, for better or worse, looks drastically different than it did just a short time ago.

Our American economy is in the same boat. Technology has brought the world to our doorstep and our growth potential is tied directly to our ability to recognize this new reality. No longer do we compete town versus town, or region versus region. In today’s global economy, Louisiana competes every single day against other states and countries for jobs and investment.

This week, we saw the announcement of a new technology center in Northwest Louisiana that will bring 800 high-tech jobs to that region and serve as the centerpiece of a public-private partnership with higher education to focus on math and computer science graduates. This, along with the continuously growing footprint we see from companies like CenturyLink and IBM, is helping to diversify our economy and develop the skilled workforce we need to compete more aggressively for the jobs of tomorrow.

As exciting as these new markets are, we must recognize that technology is also changing our existing industries at a rapid pace. In Louisiana, there are countless opportunities to get a good-paying job in manufacturing, production, and other industrial related companies and it has been this way for decades. These industries now require workers who are just as skilled in many ways as the new high-tech companies beginning to grow in Louisiana. Math, science, and critical thinking are a necessity for workers competing in the global economy and those skills are needed in traditional and emerging industries alike.

Eighty percent of company managers say that critical thinking in workers is needed for 21st century jobs. David Chavern, the COO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, also agrees that the workers of tomorrow need to be “skilled, adaptable and resourceful.” Chavern recently said, “I cannot imagine a sector of our economy that won’t be a ‘technology sector’ within 10 years.” This is our reality and it is true for every industry we have in this state.

Louisiana ranks 48th in reading and 50th in math when compared with other states. As a country, the United States is 17th in reading and 26th in math when compared with other nations. This isn’t going to cut it as we compete in the global economy.

If we want sustainable growth in Louisiana, we have to do a better job of teaching our kids how to read and apply critical thinking and reasoning to the challenges they face. Holding the line on our strong standards and assessing ourselves against other states is a start. We have improved our laws over the last few years but we all know the job is not yet done. We cannot put our head in the sand on this one.

In his recent comments, Chavern went on to say, “The starting point is dropping nostalgia for the past, when a vast, low-tech manufacturing sector could be counted on to make up for the failures of our school systems and allow unskilled people access to a middle-class lifestyle.”

He is dead on. The past is gone and the future is now. The days of looking the other way while our schools produced graduates unprepared for the workforce are long behind us. The days of having low-skilled manufacturing jobs available for those kids are numbered. You don’t need a college degree to find a great job in the new economy, but you do need the ability to read and apply critical thinking in any industry you choose.

High-tech may come in all shapes and sizes but, make no mistake; it is the foundation of the new economy. Our ability to prepare kids to compete effectively in this space can be a game changer for us. The only question is whether we are up for the challenge. #Game-on.

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