Training the next generation

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Concurrent with America’s embrace of all things technological during the past few decades, there has been an ironic and even dangerous slipping away of technical know-how among Americans.

While much of the rest of the industrialized world has been champing at the bit to learn the skills needed to provide engineers and computer technicians for the new economy, America has been producing retail clerks and nail technicians. Not that there’s anything wrong with either of those careers. We need them both in our service-oriented economy. But America will never compete in the global marketplace even if it holds a total monopoly on personal service providers.

What the nation needs to be competitive again is people trained to do the jobs that will actually produce the next generation of globally important products. And those products are sure to be either based on or a result of technological advancements. Therefore, the key to America’s economic future is a workforce with skills that go beyond what the nation has accepted for the past couple of decades.

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For example, according to the 2005 National Assessment of Education Progress, U.S. 12th-graders fell near the bottom when compared to students from other nations in mathematical aptitude. In science, no industrialized nation did worse. For the only nation ever to have put a man on the moon, those facts should be unacceptable.

Educators and, especially, companies that provide technical services have realized for some time that such statistics are intolerable, and they have begun to work together to try to improve the standing of American students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, the so-called STEM curriculum.

Companies like Lockheed Martin understand just how important it is that they help inspire young people to pursue technological careers. Much of the work those companies do is for the government, and some of it is so sensitive that the foreigners they have relied on to fill many of their technical positions in past years are not allowed to do the work.

It will become increasingly important for America to be able to provide its own engineers, and programs such as a recent one in which Forest Glen Middle School students toured Lockheed Martin to learn about STEM applications in the modern world are an important part of the strategy to recruit those engineers.

For many young people, math and science are not necessarily hard, but they seem boring. Given an opportunity to see how exciting the subjects can be when applied to important real-world problems, there’s a good chance that some of those students can help solve their nation’s larger technical problems.

Congratulations to Lockheed Martin and to Suffolk Public Schools for taking the initiative to work together to address this great need.