Rebuilding the foundation of American competitiveness

While the challenges facing young Americans vary by community, a new report issued last month by the International Youth Foundation – Opportunity for Action: Preparing Youth for 21st Century Livelihoods – paints a troubling picture of the opportunity divide facing young people today.
 

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The Microsoft-commissioned report found that in the United States, 4 million young Americans between the ages of 15-24 were unemployed. In fact, a 2009 report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation found that over the past decade, no other major economy did less than the U.S. to advance their competitive stance.
 
We can see the results and they are not good. Experts at Georgetown University predict that by 2018 at least 62 percent of the workforce will require some college education, yet today at least 25 percent of American youth drop out of high school.
 
We must not fail today’s youth by missing the opportunity to provide them with the quality education and practical skills training they will need to succeed in our competitive world economy.
 
As Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated recently at a Newseum event focused on this issue, “We have got to get better faster than we ever have.”
 
Fortunately, attention to this issue is increasing. Dedicated elected officials, community leaders, non-profits, and educators are focused on solutions. But as a nation, we must significantly scale up our investments in these efforts to create a tipping point – all of us working together to bring about the change that is required. Now is the time to redouble our efforts.
 
At Microsoft, we believe that technology can play a critical role helping all workers realize their potential, but particularly the next generation. Over the past decade, Microsoft has created important public/private partnerships with governments, communities, and non-profits to help prepare the next generation of students for success in this ever evolving marketplace. We have focused our efforts on programs that provide youth with the tools they will need to succeed.
 
We are building on existing initiatives and creating new ones, partnering with nonprofit organizations, governments, educators, and industry colleagues to empower young people to imagine and realize their full potential through education, job-readiness skills training, and access to communities where they can create and seize real-world opportunities.
 
In order to ensure the U.S. is prepared to compete in the 21st century global economy, Congress, educators, local officials, the businesses community, and nonprofits must rededicate ourselves to focus on solutions that better prepare America’s young people for success tomorrow through education today. We must close the opportunity divide and give the next generation the education, skills and opportunities they need to realize their full potential.
 
But that will only happen if we all see the same reality in front of us and come together around this vital commitment to education and skills training that helped to make America the economic miracle of the last century.
 
If we do that future generations will look back on this period as the time when its leaders rebuilt the foundation of American competitiveness. 
 
Humphries is vice president of U.S. government affairs, Microsoft and is based in Washington, D.C.