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Lifelong learning key to high-paying jobs
By DWAYNE INGRAM, Other Views
Published November 24, 2007
There's no question that the Tampa-St. Petersburg metro area remains an attractive place to do business. Employers continue to look south to us for our reasonable cost of living, our sunny shores, our business-friendly climate and our talented work force. And talented workers continue to flock here for the same reasons.
Our state's investments in work force training programs are paying off, with more than 127,000 new jobs statewide last year, about 18,000 of them created right here. And while our unemployment rate has crept up slightly in the past year, it is still well below the national average.
But our success today is no guarantee of success tomorrow - the world is changing. We need to be prepared to change with it so we can keep our employment high and attract more highly skilled, high-paying jobs here.
Jobs in technology, for example, are expected to grow faster than any other occupation through 2014. The U.S. Labor Department estimates that some 6-million jobs created during the last decade require science, engineering and technology training.
At the same time, the pool of applicants with the skills needed to fill those jobs is shrinking. As reported recently in the St. Petersburg Times, 70-million baby boomers will retire within the next five to 12 years. At the same time, enrollment in computer science courses has slumped 39 percent since 2002.
Are we positioning ourselves to gain our fair share of those opportunities, or will employers have to look elsewhere?
As public debates rage over the impact of globalization and immigration on jobs, I am convinced that lifelong learning still opens doors to opportunity. Preparing people for well-paying jobs goes far beyond high school and college, and this requires a new way of thinking.
Up to now, you went to school - whether that was technical school or college. You studied, received a degree or certification and then went to work, usually with the expectation that you would stay in that field, profession or career track for a lifetime.
But that's no longer the case. Today workers will have between five to 10 jobs over their careers, spanning different employers and even different professions. Their ability to adapt will depend on whether they have current skills that employers need.
Employers want access to workers who possess the skills they need to compete. In today's globally connected environment, work flows to the places where it will be done most efficiently and with the highest quality, and the skills required to perform it evolve over time. If employers can't find those qualified workers locally, they'll find them elsewhere.
Communities like ours must focus on creating and re-creating an adaptive, highly skilled work force, beginning with K-12 education but extending through college and beyond. For example, we should work with universities and community colleges to develop and provide low-cost access to ongoing education in emerging career fields.
Perhaps local businesses and community leaders can team up with local professors to help shape the curriculum in fast-emerging fields like services science to help meet the needs of our local employers. And maybe local government could offer incentives to individuals who take courses in high-value fields like services science or public service.
Locally, our best response to global competition is to help prepare our citizens for high-skilled, well-paid jobs, and encourage them to embrace the concept of lifelong learning.
Dwayne Ingram is senior state executive for IBM Florida, which employs more than 1,400 people in Tampa Bay.