An investment partnership in human capital

November 20, 2014

Stronger partnerships between businesses and universities can keep California from falling behind in the global competition for high-paying jobs in science and technology. That was the consensus of the speakers at “Training the 21st Century Workforce.”

Young people need to understand before they reach university that the right education can mean the difference between earning $50,000 a year and $150,000, former California Gov. Gray Davis said, adding: “I don’t think we can afford anymore just to let students drift through college and hope everything works out.”

The dilemma is highlighted by the throngs of students who shy away from majoring in math and computer science, which would prepare them to work for tech-focused firms such as Google, Boeing and Facebook. Among the 50 states, California ranks 41st in the percentage of students studying math or science, according to Perry Wong, managing director of research at the Milken Institute. As a result, employers often look elsewhere for the best talent.

One solution is to find ways to make math and science more interesting to young people while they are in elementary school, said Darrell Huntley, vice president of Boeing’s Satellite Development Center. By the time students get to college, it often is too late to build a foundation in these vital fields, he said. There is a need, as well, for more teachers who can impart scientific knowledge and computer skills, said Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College.

For Boeing, the issue is especially acute. About half of the aerospace giant’s employees are approaching retirement eligibility. The company tries to build interest in science and engineering at an early age by sending staffers into the schools to talk about their work, Huntley said.

“We don’t just look at what we are doing in college,” he said. “We go all the way back to grade school.”