MWDN: IT future lies in education
April 6, 2010
By Ashley Studley, The MetroWest Daily News
FRANKLIN — Business executives Monday told state officials Massachusetts needs to invest in its information technologies sector and education to ensure industry growth and success.
At a forum hosted by Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, and the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, executives filled a training room at Franklin’s EMC office Monday morning to discuss the highlights and needs of the IT field.
“An educated work force is the lifeblood of these companies,” said Joyce Plotkin, president emerita of the Mass Technology Leadership Council.
Plotkin said children are interested in the latest devices, but haven’t shown much interest in IT careers.
To combat that issue, the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education Coalition (STEM) has teamed up with science and technology groups to attract students and teachers to the field.
“Our focus is the professional development of teachers, updating curriculums, updating infrastructure like computers, computer labs and Smartboards, and increasing student interest,” she said.
The coalition developed a middle school learning program – Digits – to show sixth-graders career opportunities in technology.
“This is where we want to end up – all students (who) graduate from Massachusetts (schools) will be STEM aware, educated and enabled for advancement to college or a career,” she said.
Colin Angle, CEO, chairman and co-founder of iRobot – a company that makes robots for domestic and military use, said his company is working to spark a technological interest in children.
“There are few things that can in spire children more than robots,” Angle said.
He said iRobot is holding an exhibit at the Boston Museum of Science April 10-18 for National Robotics Week and expects more than 10,000 children to attend.
“Now we have a robotics merit badge for the Boy Scouts, and we’re working on one for the Girl Scouts,” he said, later adding that IT needs to be marketed to children in an alluring way.
Rep. Cory Atkins, D-Concord, said high school students in her district are excited by technology they see on TV.
“Junior girls in high school are taking forensic science because of ‘CSI.’ The show made it cool,” Atkins said. “We need to do that because it excites younger people.”
Lynn Griesemer, executive director of the UMass Donahue Institute, presented the committee with a study of the Massachusetts IT industry, which she said is the second-largest employer in the state next to health care.
Griesemer said California is Massachusetts’ biggest competitor in IT jobs – which she said are becoming the backbone in other industries like financial services and defense.
She said there are nearly 200,000 IT jobs in the state, which average an annual salary of about $80,000.
“We need more of these jobs because they are well-paying jobs and help boost the overall economy,” said Bonnie Biocchi, president of the MetroWest Chamber of Commerce.
Steve Krom, vice president and general manager for AT&T, said company growth spurs local benefits.
“The sector we’re in – wireless – is one that’s growing, and can continue to grow if we make the proper investments,” Krom said. “The growth of our products and services drives jobs in our communities.”
He said new products secure jobs for employees at the retail level.
“It’s all about supporting that ecosystem and innovation that drives that growth,” he said.
Mohamad Ali, senior vice president for corporate development and strategy for Avaya – a global provider of business communication applications, agreed big companies contribute to their communities.
“They form an anchor point for the community, and they also serve as customers,” Ali said.
He said big companies buy stock in smaller companies, which adds security to smaller businesses. William Luster, president of North Shore Economic Alliance, suggested creating incentives for those investing in the IT sector.
“It might be wise to maintain and enhance public investment by (creating) tax benefits or revenue activities,” Luster said. “… Increased investment in this sector means each sector grows.”
Spilka said she would do whatever she can to help the sector.
“We’ll stick with you and continue to work with you to understand the industry,” she said.
(Ashley Studley can be reached at 508-634-7556 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)