Long connected by history, trade and immigration, the nations of the Western Hemisphere are closer together than ever before thanks to advances in technology. Faster, more powerful and cheaper computers and related technologies have spurred advances in business, industry and personal communications unimagined only a generation ago.
Government, education and business leaders from throughout the Americas gathered in Washington this month to explore strategies for technology education in the hemisphere so students and workers are better prepared to compete in an increasingly global marketplace.
In this marketplace there is strong and growing demand for workers who are proficient in science, technology, engineering and math, the so-called STEM fields of study. Despite this demand, businesses both large and small in many countries say they can’t find enough workers skilled in these fields to fill available jobs. Workers without the needed skills cannot succeed in the new economy, and without skilled workers businesses cannot make the most of potential markets. Thus, the Americas of the future will depend on how nations educate their people today.
Francisco Sanchez, U.S. Under Secretary of Commerce, told conference attendees that to promote prosperity throughout the hemisphere, the United States has an interest in helping its neighbors and trade partners develop a skilled workforce.
The Obama Administration has launched several efforts to increase access to quality education here and across the hemisphere. In the U.S., the “Change the Equation” program involves corporate executives in a campaign to get more students interested in STEM studies and to develop courses for them. President Obama launched “100,000 Strong in the Americas” to increase the number of American students studying in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the number of students from those nations coming to study in the U.S. Under Pathways to Prosperity in the Americas, Uruguay, with support from the United States, hosted a conference on “Digital Opportunities” for governments and NGOs to discuss using technology to expand educational opportunities.
The private and academic sectors are also working to promote workforce education in the Americas. Microsoft Corporation and local educational foundations support after-school programs for high school students in El Salvador that focus on computer and English training and life skills. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is working with the government of Brazil to develop beam energy propulsion, and the University of Maryland is working with several universities in Uruguay to help firms there export their goods and attract investment.
Working together to improve education for workforce development will pave a path wide enough for all in the Americas to prosper in the 21st century.