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Look to STEM for a Stronger Union

“My fellow Americans, the skills mismatch in our country is large, and it continues to grow.  Countries that invest in their children -- countries like India and China -- are innovating and growing.  Each day that we fail to adequately prepare our students to face tomorrow’s challenges is a wasted day.  We must shrink the skills gap.”

That’s exactly how I would kickoff Tuesday’s State of the Union Address.  Industry sectors that depend on a highly skilled workforce, including the tech sector, are the world’s strongest job creators, but, to continue to grow and create jobs, these sectors need bright human capital.  The tech sector is attuned to just how dire the skills gap is in the United States, and that is why Tuesday, with the nation watching, would be the perfect opportunity for President Obama in his speech, and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio in the Republican response, to provide narratives that suggest the potential for bipartisan solutions to reverse the skills gap.

In 2013, a background in American literature and early European civilization, while no doubt important, is unlikely to grow the economy at the rate needed to keep pace with our competitors abroad.  Keeping pace with those competitors means our country needs students who are proficient in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Revamping the nation’s workforce to ensure sustained economic growth is certainly no easy task.  It’s a complex issue and evokes strong emotions from any number of stakeholders.  Fortunately, Senators Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Chris Coons, D-Del., and others have forged a bipartisan consensus to address this challenge in their Immigration Innovation (or I-Squared) Act of 2013.

While much of the focus on I-Squared is on recruiting and retaining skilled foreign-born workers, the legislation establishes a robust investment pipeline designed to sharpen the STEM skill sets of students in our domestic education system.  Specifically, through increased fees on temporary skilled visas, the bill would provide financial assistance to any state detailing how its STEM education programs would meet the economy’s needs.  This initiative has the strong support of many companies in key sectors that depend on a skilled STEM workforce, and are making their own investments in programs designed to improve the quality of STEM education and STEM proficiency.

The nation has arrived at a seminal moment and it’s imperative that the president and Congress work together to shrink the skills gap and create good-paying, long-lasting jobs to grow the economy.  At a minimum, the I-Squared Act should be looked at as a starting point.  The bold, bipartisan thinking exhibited by the Act’s sponsors is precisely what will get our economy moving again.  The tech sector stands ready to work with any member of Congress who is willing to build consensus around proposals that will make a difference in preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s challenges.

You can learn more about the I-Squared Act:

Public Policy Tags: Skills/STEM
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