Summit to focus on education’s role in the modern community and 21st Century workforce

In this year’s annual Building the Broadband Economy Summit, the Intelligent Community Forum looks at how cities across the globe are tying educational requirements to workforce needs, as jobs ebb and flow to disparate parts of the world according to the availability of low-cost, high-speed communications technology.

The unemployment rate in the United States is 9.9 percent, according to the latest figures by the Department of Labor. And nearly 7 million of those jobless have gone more than twenty-seven weeks without work. Billions of dollars more are likely to be flushed through the economy over the coming months, through unemployment insurance or “jobs bills,” to help sections of the economy emerge from the Great Recession.

But according to Louis Zacharilla and the Intelligent Community Forum, a global think tank, the task of creating lasting jobs in an ever-changing world has to be more closely aligned with the educational system that produces the workforce. Mr. Zacharilla and his colleagues at ICF are gearing up for their annual Building the Broadband Economy Summit this week to announce the 2010 Intelligent Community of the Year. This year’s theme is “The Education Last Mile: Closing the Gap between School and Work.”

“We are seeing a requirement for the education systems throughout the world to produce a type of person that was not required 20 years ago, as we came to the end of the industrial age,” Mr. Zacharilla said in an interview.

The concept of a knowledge worker has been around since the 1970’s when Peter Drucker coined the term, but only recently has the world seen his predictions come true. According to a white paper produced by ICF, the manufacturing sector of the world’s economy has lost a significant amount its job-generating power and that the skills gap between secondary and higher education is widening in terms of earning potential. “For citizens with a poor educational history and few skills, [the change to a knowledge-based workforce] has been devastating,” the report says. “In earlier decades, they would have found work in manufacturing and earned wages that would have put them solidly in the middle class.”

The new worker, according to Mr. Zacharilla, needs to not only have the skills to perform in the new knowledge workforce, but she needs to be able to achieve at significant levels of skill performance.

“It’s important that the workforce look to the educational systems of the world to help close the gap and produce people that are capable of thinking in ways that are consistent with the requirements of the modern community.”

For the past decade, as part of its annual awards process, ICF has been studying the modern community and identifying cities throughout the world that are setting the bar for innovation in the Broadband Economy. The Broadband Economy is how ICF explains the rapid expansion of low-cost, high-speed communications and information technology within a global context. Every year, communities are chosen from a group of Smart21 Communities for their integration of broadband, and related technologies, with community development and citizen outreach strategies.

This year’s Top Seven winners included two US-based communities – Arlington County, Virginia and Dublin, Ohio. They were joined by cities in Canada, the Netherlands, South Korea, Estonia and the UK. Mr. Zacharilla said the primary strength of this year’s Top Seven Communities has been their concerted efforts to increase innovation. He said that local government officials have been at the heart of successful efforts to bring once failing and old economies into the 21st century – and they are leveraging private partnerships to build upon enabling policies.

“What we’ve arrived at now, is a Top Seven that have enshrined innovation and are beginning to absorb it into the DNA of their cultures.”

One example comes from Ottawa, Ontario where a reported five new businesses are started every week. “People say ‘wow,’” Zacharilla explained, “But I say ‘why isn’t everyone else doing it?’ because that is going to be the requirement for every local economy going forward.”

“Jobs have to come from somewhere, so creating five businesses every seven days shouldn’t be something that gets an exclamation point behind it. It should be the standard.”

Moving forward, the global think tank is trying to understand education’s role in the Broadband Economy and identifying some of those cities that have laid a high-speed communications infrastructure, but are now fostering a workforce to maximize the use of that fiber backbone.

“Now we’re trying to understand weather the educational system can be disintermediated by knowledge.”

According to Mr. Zacharilla, some communities are reassessing their continuing education model and trying to understand if rather than be a supplemental to the tradition of secondary and higher education, it could be part of a “twenty-year educational package.”

With the understanding that most people will have five to seven new jobs over a lifetime, and each of those jobs requiring new levels of education and new forms of training, conversations are emerging in some communities about developing a model where parents can buy an educational product upfront, at a discount, and make it part of an ecosystem, Zacharilla said.

“People are working hard to solve the systemic problem of not looking at the workforce and tying it back into the educational requirements.”

ICF’s BBE Summit “The Education Last Mile: Closing the Gap between School and Work” begins Wednesday May 19 through May 21 where the 2010 Intelligent Community of the Year will be announced at the Polytechnic University at its Metrotech campus in Brooklyn, New York. For more information, click here.

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