At Microsoft, we believe that equipping students and workers with the education and skills they need to compete in the 21st century global economy is critical to U.S. economic and national security. Indeed, despite the economic downturn and high unemployment rates, Microsoft and thousands of our partners continue to struggle to find workers with the knowledge and experience necessary to help our businesses compete and grow.
These skill shortages exist despite significant investments by Microsoft and our like-minded partners to grow the pipeline of science, technology, engineering and math students through programs such as Partners in Learning, which provides curricula and class materials, and DreamSpark, which offers students free software.
But even if we succeed in developing a deep pool of highly skilled IT workers in the U.S., there will still be substantial workforce development needs to keep the U.S. economy evolving and growing long-term. For instance, there has been much talk in Washington, D.C., about the wave of new green jobs and health IT occupations that are likely to emerge over the next decade. Such occupations will also require that job seekers possess a basic platform of skills to prosper in a global economy.
Consequently, we are encouraged that the Obama administration and key members of Congress have focused on the need to develop these skills in our future workers. We are particularly pleased that one of the lawmakers leading the effort is Senator Patty Murray, the senior senator from our home state of Washington. Last week, Sen. Murray introduced the Promoting Innovations to 21st Century Careers Act (S. 1532), which is designed to provide incentives to communities, employers and schools to work together to help our students get the knowledge and skills they will need to succeed in fields with high growth potential.
The legislation calls for $912 million in federal grants to support state and regional partnerships that prepare high school age youth for post-secondary education and 21st century careers. For example, the grants could be used to develop hands-on job-training experiences, internships and apprenticeships that connect students with local businesses; guidance counseling to help students learn about available career opportunities and education programs to equip them with the job skills they need; development of registered apprenticeship programs, mentorships and work-based experiences with local businesses; and modernizing educational equipment and spaces.
Coupled with the Obama administration’s American Graduation Initiative, Sen. Murray’s pragmatic legislation has the potential to move our nation forward through high-skill career education pipelines that provide better futures for our students, more skilled labor for businesses and increased talent to spur regional economic growth.
We hope that Sen. Murray’s initiative will help to spur a dialogue with policymakers in Washington, D.C., about how best to meet our 21st century skills challenges. Her legislation provides a solid framework for that discussion.