Maryland Higher Education Commission
Annapolis, MD October 20, 2004
TYRONE D. TABORN
Chief Executive Officer
Career Communications Group
Mr. Secretary, Mr. Chairman, Dr. Embry, and others, it is truly an honor to address you tonight.
By way of introduction, I am CEO of Career Communications Group, Inc. For more than two decades, we have helped increase the interest and number of women and minorities in the fields of science, engineering, and technology.
We publish four award-winning magazines: US Black Engineer & Information Technology, Hispanic Engineer & Information Technology, Science Spectrum, and Women of Color. We also host and produce the Black Engineer of the Year Awards Conference, the Science Spectrum Magazine Conference on Minorities in Research Science, and the National Women of Color Technology Awards Conference. Our events bring tens of millions of dollars into the State of Maryland and the City of Baltimore. I have been honored by you and your fellow legislators right here for my efforts. Next year, we are bringing our Minorities in Research Science conference to Baltimore to help increase the interest of young people in science and biotech.
So, it is with some authority that I say to you that we are a nation at risk. And our educational system is at the heart of the danger.
The world is changing, and our nation’s leadership position is being challenged in ways never imagined. According to IBM’s Ted Childs, vice president of Global Workforce Diversity, “We are now competing with countries that have invested better in their educational systems and have yielded a better outcome of talented people.” And, as Dr. John Slaughter, president and CEO of NACME observes, this is happening at a point in history when the number of engineering graduates is at one of its lowest levels of the past 20 years. This is also occurring at a time when the demand for persons prepared to provide the skills needed by America’s high-technology industries has never been higher. It is not guaranteed that we will continue to be dominant in overseas markets. In fact, there are real questions about whether we can our maintain market share in key areas right here in the United States.
Our nation finds itself at the nexus of multiple problems affecting its industry: retirement of our current science, engineering, and technology work force; foreign competition; and the failure of our educational systems to produce an adequate number of workers in the fields that count the most. Let’s just start with the basics: Getting an engineering degree. Blacks make up less than 4 percent of the engineers in the United States. For far too many minority and nonminority youth, engineering is not seen as a prestigious or likely occupation. More than a half-million minority students graduate from high school each year, but only 32,000 of them complete the necessary science and math courses to be considered for entry into engineering school. Of that number, only 21,000 are fully qualified for admission.
On the other end of the pipeline, more and more employers are competing for technology workers because of the growth of technology's influence on industry. Companies that were not rivals 10 years ago now fight for the same hiring prospects. Companies such as Wal-Mart now hire engineers and other technology professionals. Airlines, fast food chains, banks, and hotels also need technology professionals to fuel their growth. Because of Web-based and emerging technologies, every company will soon be a competitor for talent.
Retirement is a major drain on our tech and science work force. Look at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, for example. Within the next 10 to 15 years, more than 40 percent of the engineers of that elite organization will retire from the federal payroll. With that, much of its institutional memory and core competencies will also go.
So, while we have a situation in which there is a growing need for more professionals, our nation is failing to educate enough young people in these critical fields. Right now, fewer students are choosing classes that lead to science, engineering, and technology professions.
Immigration won't help us. Since 9/11, it has been very difficult to import skilled workers to help fill the gaps. And that is not likely to change anytime in the near future. Global pressure will intensify the need to promote a culturally inclusive approach to addressing science, engineering, and technology education. As more countries expand their skilled work forces, not only will they provide the talent attractive to American corporations, but because of these countries’ rising standards of living, they also will retain their work forces.
If we want to see the future, all we have to do is look at today. Innovation and the pursuit of excellence by our global competitors have already harmed our competitive position. Airbus has hurt Boeing, General Motors is in the fight of its life, and we have already lost key segments of the consumer electronics market.
Right now, for too many of our policy makers and business leaders, this seems like an academic discussion. It is not, and the signs are everywhere. We must make education a national priority.
Most of what I have said is addressed in your report. Your report gives cursory attention to the importance of role-modeling in addressing this issue, but it stops short of mandating the use of minority role models in the educational process.
I want to cite a joint survey by the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) and my company, Career Communications Group. In surveying minority technology professionals, we found that one of the leading factors in their choice of technology as a career was being exposed to the field early in their lives, by a role model. The least important influence was guidance counselors.
Although role models are not the entire answer, they are indeed an important part of it. We must show our children exemplars and do a better job of getting these professionals involved in the process of achieving excellence. All of us have an obligation to ensure that this happens. We must include the use of role-modeling materials and set measurements and goals for our children’s advancement. This cannot just be an optional exercise or vision statement.
I am very comfortable in making this prediction: Without women and people of color fully engaged, America is at risk of losing her place as a global superpower. We will lose our moral authority. We will lose our military authority. And we will lose our marketplace authority.