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Technology For Business
Purposeful strides toward an innovative technology economy

Several recent trips have served to be both inspiring and challenging when viewed in the context of our region. This is a dilemma I have been dealing with for a long time, more acutely since our recent West Sound Technology Association (WSTA) annual summit held in September on Raisbeck Aviation High School and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).

Western Washington Summit 2013 brought together Doug King, CEO of Museum of Flight; Reba Gillman, principal and CEO of Raisbeck Aviation High School; Susannah Malarkey, executive director of Technology Alliance; Dr. David Mitchell, president of Olympic College; Tim Thomson, CEO of Port of Bremerton; and Ed Stern in his leadership capacity with Puget Sound Regional Council. Raisbeck is an example of what is possible when private, public and nonprofits collaborate. The school has been in existence for 10 years, and recently moved into a $43.5 million campus adjacent to the Museum of Flight and Boeing. The 400 students — many who commute up to four hours daily — attend this public school get a top-notch education, as well as opportunities to intern with (and ultimately work for) companies like Boeing and Orbital Sciences. They are on a path to a great future, and Raisbeck is an excellent model for other public/private partnerships in our schools.

STEM and its variation STEAM (which adds Art for creativity), are at the heart of what our future workforce will need in terms of skills for a more technology-based economy — but also to spark more entrepreneurs and innovators. WSTA signed on early to encourage STEM curricula as a Technology Alliance associate over a decade ago, efforts that only recently bore fruit. Despite it, so much more needs to be done. More than a few attendees expressed that for them, the Western Washington Summit 2013 was our best ever, and yet pushing the envelope to inspire our region to support a high-tech future still seems an uphill climb.

Of those recent trips I mentioned, one was to EmTech2013 at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, where WSTA co-founding member and former president Doña Keating won an international contest to guest blog for this prestigious conference. What really struck me, more than just brain power on display, was a confidence, positivity and willingness to create solutions to problems: from repairing injured brains to energy to the transformations caused by the application of big data. After arriving home from EmTech at 1 a.m., we departed mere hours later for a WA Tech Cities conference cohosted by the City of Redmond and Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA) at Microsoft, which was also attended by government officials, tech leaders and other innovators with that same “can-do” attitude.

WSTA is continuing its efforts to improve the regional economy by promoting innovation, workforce development, education and entrepreneurship. We’ve taken up initiatives that reach out to our schools and citizens to prepare for the future. Why?

  • 76 percent of future STEM jobs will require information technology (IT) skills, but only a small number of students take the AP computer science test and 36 of 50 states do not allow computer science classes to apply for graduation requirements (Washington state is thankfully one that does).
  • Code Curriculum standards are only now being adopted, yet still do not incorporate computer science.
  • Software jobs outnumber students 3-to-1, a gap of 1 million jobs over 10 years.
  • 90 percent of schools in the U.S. still do not teach computer science and the number of CS majors has declined.

This isn’t just about tech companies. According to Code.org, 67 percent of “software” jobs are outside the tech industry — in banking, retail, government, entertainment, etc. The reality is all careers require some form of IT skills.

In addition to formal education such as K-20, WSTA plays a unique and critical role in developing workforce proficiency via its peer-to peer best practice forums. Professional associations and affinity groups rate highly with employers and employees as part of the workforce development/education ecosystem. Certain levels of on-the-ground information sharing, workshops and training are not always available via standard educational and academic channels. Customers and providers connect and share resources, or engage on policy issues that impact industry progress and sustainability — a benefit shared by cities, counties, ports and educational institutions alike.

Kitsap in particular has numerous opportunities, with one example being assistance to retiring veterans who wish to leverage their skills into new careers. In order to make this happen, we (WSTA and its partners) need to continue meeting at the table. Organizationally, as a small nonprofit with a four-person board and very limited resources, we have created outsized results. As a victim of our own success, our base needs to be broadened to include all who understand and support these efforts.

To prepare ourselves for exciting changes on the horizon, we are meeting with regional stakeholders who are positive, “can-do” achievers. We will review and update WSTA’s strategic plan, forge new directions, and build a strong leadership case. If that’s you and you haven’t yet heard from us, drop us a line.

Charles Keating is president of West Sound Technology Association. He is also president of Keating Consulting Service (www.kcsco.com), an IT consulting practice that has been in business for nearly 30 years. He is also a principal in K2 Strategic Solutions (www.k2strategic.com), a partnership between Professional Options and Keating Consulting Service for providing technology, policy and management consulting.

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