Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Job Creation as Job One: 3 Ideas for The Forum on Jobs and Economic Growth

President Obama’s commitment to job creation and revitalization of the economy is highlighted by his designation of job growth as a top priority for the Administration, and his Forum on Jobs and Economic Growth. In addition to the myriad efforts by his Administration to establish, implement, and accelerate initiatives for job creation, his leadership is amplified by his call to all sectors of American society for ideas and strategies that will further advance these objectives.

The dialogue is certain to address a wide range of issues, from access to capital and insurance to promotion of key industries and market development, and from small business incentives and micro-lending encouragement to tax benefits and trade enhancement. As a contribution to this national brainstorming session, the following three perspectives could also add significant value to our national effort to create employment opportunities in the short-term, and institute sustainable economic and job growth over the long-term.

1. Job Skills Training via E-Learning

Job skills training and workforce development are critical components in job growth and economic development. There is often a co-dependent “chicken-and-egg” relationship between the need for well-trained workers and the availability of jobs for well-trained workers, such that progress toward the two objectives necessarily must advance concomitantly. Companies are usually reluctant to establish or increase operations without assurance of the availability of qualified personnel to hire for such operations. Similarly, once people have gained high-value job skills, there is a need to place them in jobs in which they will be able to put their skills to remunerative use. Thus, it is vitally important that job skills training and workforce development resources be widely available, and be correlated with and calibrated to the proliferation of jobs and work opportunities. Online e-learning provides a highly scalable and relatively low-cost solution for dissemination of a vast array of job skills. Americans would be well served by Federal support for e-learning of job skills training that enables convenient access at a place and time of the learner’s choosing.

2. Information Technology and Business Skills for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy

For maximal relevance to today’s 21st century information-based economy, it is increasingly necessary for new workers, re-trainees, and displaced workers to obtain information technology and business skills. With the acceleration of the global economy, digital-based skills have become a core competency in many industries and roles that are transitioning to advanced business methods, mechanization, and reliance on information technology tools. This trend is prominent in the manufacturing sector, which, in past decades, may not have embraced these developments as closely as in other sectors. Even more crucially, in the services sector --- including financial services, health care, IT and telecom services, fulfillment and delivery, etc. --- these skills have long been of paramount importance. Job growth in each of these sectors depends upon workers having contemporary IT and business skills, as well as the foundational capacity that will enable them to quickly achieve operational competency in the IT and business skills that are used by a specific employer.

This imperative was illuminated earlier this decade during the concern over “outsourcing”, by which many jobs were being relocated outside of the United States. As the global economy allows – and even promotes – the free flow of jobs to locations with lower operating costs, the key to success for US companies and job growth for US workers is the mass proliferation of advanced IT and business skills. With such skills, US workers and industries can remain pre-eminent in innovation, cost-efficiency, and value. These outcomes will continue to be the cornerstone for product development, service delivery, entrepreneurship, and new business models, each of which propel our economy, and, ultimately, are essential for job growth among people who can advance these objectives.

3. Development of Industry-Specific Technologies for the Future Economy via “Business Parks”

The Federal government can fulfill a critical role in developing and implementing strategies to accelerate job growth for skilled workers, due to its unique capacity and powers for policy development, resource coordination, stakeholder collaboration, and incentive creation. The Administration could convene a task force (comprised of government officials, industry leaders, university leaders, financiers, economic development thought-leaders, scientists, educators, and others) to chart the course of future innovations through accelerated and coordinated creation of “business parks” to catalyze technologies, products, and services that will become industrial leaders and revenue generators for decades to come. Deployment of these initiatives would have a strong impact on localized job growth in the near-term, and become focal points of our country’s global economic leadership in future decades. Some of the key steps include:

(a) identification of industries, products, and services with very high growth potential that are anticipated to address US and global economic and societal needs in the future, e.g., clean-tech energy production, resource conservation, clean water production including de-salinization, health care and biotech advancement, environmental remediation, recycling and waste management, high-volume food production, mobile telephony and computing, transportation safety, homeland security technologies, etc.;

(b) identification of stakeholders who have resources that could contribute significantly to development of those industries, products, and services, e.g., technologies, intellectual capital, financial capital, facilities, delivery or deployment infrastructure, end-product usage, etc.;

(c) development of conceptual frameworks for the coordination of resources in physical “business parks” that are dedicated to an individual industry, product, or service, so that participants can leverage each other's research, resources, and manufacturing and deployment capabilities, resulting in synergistic benefits for all participants;

(d) specification of components, inputs, and services with which each business park would be equipped, including high-tech communications and technology infrastructure (with fiber and wireless connectivity), energy-efficient facilities that are tailored to each business park’s needs, support services, and, possibly, environmentally-friendly affordable housing;

(e) identification of localities that would be appropriate for the siting of business parks, considering their access to facilities, infrastructure, research, intellectual capital, local and business funding, planning coordination, technology transfer, zoning variances, skilled workers, job skills training resources, manufacturing or production capacity, markets, leadership, etc.;

(f) identification of incentives, business relationships, and the legal framework associated with the business parks, e.g., ownership and partnership characteristics, sharing of patent and licensing revenues (including for the Federal government), tax incentives, establishment of enterprise zones, coordination with Federal science and research institutions, anti-trust waivers to allow for coordination of activities, procedures for accelerated initiation of operations to stimulate job growth and economic impact, etc.; and

(g) coordination of the activities and results emanating from the business parks with the industry stakeholders who are engaged in the products and services that are designated for development through this initiative.

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