As Labor Day approaches, I’m reminded of the power of our innovative American spirit — from the garages of Silicon Valley to the factory floors of Detroit to the stock-trading floors of Wall Street — that has driven our nation to create and compete on the international stage.
From Ford’s Model-T to Musk’s Tesla Roadster, exporting American innovation to the world has always been what we do best.
If we are to remain competitive in the years to come, we must rethink the term “Made in America.”
It must evolve to include “Innovated in America.” We not only need to manufacture, we also need to create. To do this, we must focus more on training our young people and current work force to excel in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
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According to Forbes Magazine, the demand for computer systems analysts with big data expertise increased almost 90 percent and that for computer and information research scientists increased 85 percent in the past 12 months.
The timing couldn’t be better. A massive new trade deal is emerging Asia-Pacific nations just as the American economy finds itself at a crossroads between waning traditional manufacturing and an exploding tech sector.
The goal of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is to open up new markets with new trading partners from the Asia Pacific. By shoring up our technological force, we can put ourselves in a good position to capitalize on that opportunity.
It is imperative that we embrace this change — and this deal — if we are serious about supporting the next generation of jobs for American workers.
Some labor groups are understandably wary, arguing that free trade with the Asia Pacific hurts American workers. After all, the phrase “free trade” has the nasty habit of summoning the specter of a domestic economic apocalypse. However, as we have seen time and again, this fear has proven to be misguided.
Instead of fearing change, labor and America need to come together and embrace the opportunity to innovate. They must work in tandem, providing American workers with next-generation skills to compete in the 21st century.
We need a workforce that is trained on STEM learning for our students and high-tech job training programs for existing workers. New Economy skills are necessary for success in the burgeoning global market.
The TPP will codify rigorous labor and environmental standards — improving conditions in foreign factories and leveling the playing field for workers here at home. That playing field can only be level if our workforce is properly trained.
Our Asian trading partners are far outpacing us in this regard.
In math, American 15-year-olds rank a dismal 27th out of the 34 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In science, they’re 20th.
The world economy is expected to grow by $60 trillion over the next 25 years, yet the United States ranks second-to-last place among the world’s largest economies in capturing this market share. Ignoring stagnating exports won’t make the issue go away. We simply cannot support a thriving U.S. workforce without being competitive in new global markets for our products.
For America’s existing, thriving titans in the tech sector — Facebook, Twitter, Uber and Apple, to name a few — efficient export faces steep, sometimes insurmountable, barriers when it comes to trade with Pacific partners. TPP will take a sledgehammer to these barriers by strengthening patents and safeguarding the free flow of data across international borders.
Tariffs on American goods would be reduced or eliminated and Customs rules would be streamlined.
Free trade — coupled with more highly skilled American worker — is a natural and necessary evolution to ensure a direct hit on the rapidly moving target of an expanding global middle class. To be sure, if we don’t hit the bull’s-eye, someone else will.
Ryan Brooks is an appointee to the Industry Trade Advisory Committee on Services and Finance Industries, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. His comments do not reflect the views of ITAC.