Delaware can leverage its assets for tech prep

Tax BracketologyBy Sam Waltz

What can and should Delaware be doing to improve its human capital with a technology focus for the 21st Century jobs?

From robotics to drones, each of them reported about in this issue, to many other topics, it’s clear that technology is now and will continue as the cornerstone of the postindustrial phase of the American economy.

With smokestack industries in decline and service industries incredibly mobile, and facing labor competition without regard to national borders that effectively drive down service sector wages, what’s left for many Americans is to invent our own industries. It’s the “new cottage industry,” the postindustrial phase that almost resembles the pre-industrial entrepreneurial phase of this country in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

Delaware enjoys some great success stories, from the DuPonts and AstraZenecas to the Sev One-type companies that are growing. A significant difference, though, is that global companies recruit from a national labor pool; while emerging local companies rely on local talent.

Manufacturing jobs have been in decline since the 1950s as a percentage of the American workforce, and in free fall since the 1970s and early 1980s.

It was in the late 1990s when America’s service economy exceeded 50 percent of the GDP, and those who are actually producing things fell further and further into the minority of American workers. Many of us in business then expressed the concern that the shift would create the “sky is falling” point of no return, the tipping point that could sink the U.S. economy.

In a video, Larry King once joked about going to his first-ever Rotary meeting in Miami, Fla., and his expectation that Rotary Clubs were full of insurance sales people, all of whom were busy at Rotary meetings selling insurance to each other.

Rotarians – and insurance sales people — know, of course, the King anecdote is not true. As a service economy, though, it’s difficult to prosper, grow and thrive if all we do is sell services to each other, that is, without actually making something.

The intellectual capital embedded in technology has created postindustrial manufacturing for the 21st Century, and it requires a workforce that knows how to leverage it to make and sell things.

Delaware is indeed blessed with a variety of assets, in higher education with its major universities to its vo-tech programs to its academic high schools and even its quasi-public sector consultancies like the Delaware Manufacturing Extension Partnership (DEMEP), which increasingly focuses on technology-based businesses.

But a common complaint we hear from technology industries is that finding the right people trained in technology in this state remains a difficult task. And it’s a complaint business leaders hear more often, unfortunately, not less often.

If a good comprehensive statewide study or plan for Delaware’s longer-term technology-trained human capital exists, we’ve not seen it or read about it.

The stuff we’re fighting about now in Delaware — Common Core testing, charter schools, financing public education — all are important and worthwhile topics that deserve attention. And educators long have experienced kind of an internal tension over the role and purpose of education.

Is it for general education to leverage our intellects and make us smarter and hopefully happier? Or is it to grow us towards some particular vocational or professional competence?

As parents, many of us would answer “both.”

But this is a good time for some leadership force in our community to begin to shine the light on this, examine it, develop strategies, and begin to approach in a more systematic way than Delaware has done in the past.

Simply said, our state is too small not to be able to build a consensus around a “world class” approach that integrates the assets and resources that bless our state and use it to make Delaware a national and Mid-Atlantic hub for technology innovation.

And we invite those who already are a serious part of the effort, those who feel their stories are not being told, to reach out to us at the Delaware Business Times and let us know what they’re doing and their accomplishments, so we all join together in this “for the greater good.” ♦

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