I had the distinct pleasure of participating as a presenter for SXSWedu this week. I joined professionals from across the United States who are embarking on innovative approaches to solving our talent development challenges. The panel, sponsored by PCG (Public Consulting Group), focused on early childhood as a foundation for ensuring social, academic, and future workforce success.
To ensure that success, its imperative that we recognize that talent development is one of the supreme challenges we face as a nation. We are at a pivotal crossroads in determining our nation’s future. We are simultaneously wrestling with monumental issues of demographic shifts, talent shortages, and immigration dynamics. This is occurring during one of the most disruptive technologically driven economic transitions the world has ever witnessed. All the while, we have yet to solve the long standing problems in our educational and workforce development systems.
Critical to solving those problems is a recognition of the fact that our ability to address our talent needs and workforce challenges hinges on our success in maximizing our talent production potential. We can only do that by ensuring that more kids make it through our educational system with the skills to be successful in life and in the workplace. In America today, only one in three kids enters kindergarten with the requisite skills to be successful. These deficits compound as they proceed through the early grades. And those who are not reading proficiently by third grade are 4 times more likely to drop out of high school. We focus an inordinate amount of energy wondering why we can’t produce enough STEM professionals and workforce ready graduates, and the answer is staring us in the face – early childhood system deficits compound later talent production deficits.
This is a crisis of epic proportions, and it is exacerbated by inaction on a host of related issues in our society. As a nation, we have become complacent and too comfortable living in crisis mode. We too quickly abdicate responsibility for solving these problems to others. And we rest comfortably with the notion that our only responsibility rests with our own children at home. This is a hort sighted and doomed perspective that will inevitably ensure our nation’s demise on the world stage. If companies don’t have the talent they need, we will witness the decimation of our economy and an exodus of industries for Europe and other nations that are already doing a much better job of addressing this problem.
Despite this picture, I am inspired by the efforts of communities like Austin, Texas; Albany, New York; and communities in my home state of North Carolina. These initiatives were on display in the panel I participated in during SXSWedu. Each of these communities have committed significant time and resources to addressing this very challenge. They are beacons of light that show the way to how local champions can shirk off the yoke of complacency, and lead the way toward ensuring American prosperity. If your community hasn’t launched its own grand vision for early childhood, what are you waiting on? The competition for global success and the jobs of tomorrow is real. Being on the losing end of that contest is a future we can ill afford to contemplate.