Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
November 13, 1998
I want to begin by thanking all of you for the opportunities you are creating for Washington citizens and our state’s economy.
And I want to take a moment to celebrate the fact that this year, for the first time, total wages in the software industry in our state will exceed those in the aerospace industry. This is a change in the nature of our economy that we shouldn’t underestimate. It marks a significant milestone in our shift from an industrial economy to a knowledge economy. And it is both a symbol and the substance of the change that characterizes the transition from the 20th century to the 21st.
Today, our challenge is to create a much broader public awareness of what this shift means, and to redirect and re-orient public policy to accommodate and promote it. Every Washington citizen should understand that this shift to a knowledge-based economy requires change from all of us – not just from government or schools or industry.
To truly succeed in the economy of the 21st century, we must create a culture of life-long learning. That means creating the expectation that all of us will learn new skills throughout our working lives. We can not sustain the growth in our knowledge-based economy if we assume that students can simply front-load their lives with education, and that they will then know all they will ever need to learn by the age of 22. And we must persuade every working adult that learning isn’t just for kids anymore.
This is no small task. A friend of mine tells the story of her son, whose first job was working as tech support for a local software firm. He complained about the calls he got from grouchy older adults, who were mad at their software because it required them to learn something new. This young tech support worker was beginning to think that it’s really people over 30 who are the slackers when it comes to learning.
I can see both sides of that story. I know that for a lot of us – including me -- it really is a challenge to learn to use new technologies, especially when they change so often and so fast. I know that in my own office, there are people who resist software upgrades for this very reason: they just don’t want to invest the time and effort to learn something new.
But learning is the price of admission to the 21st century. And that’s why I’m so focused on making Washington a state of learning. Learning can open new doors of opportunity for people coming off welfare, for people in distressed rural areas, and for people who are stuck in dead-end, low-wage jobs. And learning is the only fuel that can power the growth of the software industry that you have done so well at building. That’s why – at the risk of being boring – I’m sticking to the same priorities that I outlined when I first took office. This year, like last year – and like next year – my budget and legislative priorities will put education first.
We are not going to compromise our state’s tough new academic standards. Instead, we are going to move heaven and earth to make sure that every year, our student test scores continue to improve. And we are going to continue the build-out of our kindergarten through college technology network, so that more students can master the skills they’ll need to succeed in the 21st century economy.
On the foundation of a high-performance public school system, we’re going to build a system of life-long learning that serves both the huge wave of college-bound high school graduates that’s coming in the next few years, and the growing number of older adults who are returning to the classroom. To do this, I will propose a series of efficiency measures and cuts in other areas of the budget. These cuts will be painful, and many of them will be unpopular. But to me, the need to invest more in education is both obvious and urgent. And the most eloquent expression of that urgency is your report on the challenges of our state’s software industry workforce.
It is absolutely outrageous that Washington residents are not being educated and trained for the thousands of high-paying jobs that the software industry is creating. And it is equally outrageous that the growth of this industry, which promises so much for our future, is held back by the lack of qualified job applicants.
We know, without any doubt, that Washington residents are as smart as people anywhere on earth. We know that we have people who need good jobs. We know the average salary in the high tech industry is over $50,000 per year. And we know that if we want our citizens and our economy to thrive in the century ahead, we need to solve this problem right now, without delay.
Why do we have 7,000 job openings, but only 1,500 graduates each year from our colleges and universities who are qualified to fill them? Why is the University of Washington computer science and engineering department restricted to admitting only 1 out of every 5 qualified applicants? Even applicants with GPAs of 3.7 are being turned away from these degree programs. All this is absolutely unacceptable.
I want Washington jobs for Washington students. Our state must stop cheating our students, our most innovative and promising industry, and our economic future by failing to offer the education and training that we so obviously need.
That’s why, in next year’s budget, I will propose three measures to begin to solve the information technology workforce shortage. My aim is to triple – not double, but triple – the number of people who get two- and four-year degrees in information technology programs over the next four years. I propose to do this through a series of new investments, reallocations, and partnerships.
First, I will propose $7 million in grants to high schools that commit to providing industry-certified information technology instruction – certification such as the Cisco and Microsoft networking courses. These grants will be for equipment, curriculum development or purchase, and training for high school faculty. These grants will require a 50% private match at each school. And preference will be given to schools with strong technology plans, schools with strategies for private sector partnerships, and schools that serve low-income communities.
Second, I will propose $3 million in grants to community colleges to increase enrollment in information technology programs, by providing one-time start-up and faculty training. These grants will require a 100% private industry match. The goal is for every community college in this state to offer training in high-demand information technology skills – whether on campus or through distance education. These programs must teach industry-identified skills, or prepare students for upper division computer science studies.
Third, I will propose $4 million in grants to our four-year colleges and universities to expand computer science and computer engineering enrollments. These grants will also require a 100% private match, so that only those programs that are high priorities for the private sector will receive new public funding.
At all three levels – high school, community college, and university – these programs totaling $25 million in public/private funds are designed to be partnerships with everyone in this room. Already, John Morgridge, the Chairman of Cisco, has committed $10 million to build a world class information technology program at Edmonds and Shoreline community colleges. These programs link community colleges with high schools, provide training for high school teachers, and promote our goal of creating a seamless education system. And these programs make Cisco a leading corporate role model and Washington state hero.
Frankly, I would like every one of the programs I am proposing to be bigger, and for our progress in this area to be faster. But as you know, state government is severely constrained by a very tight budget, and by huge new demands such as saving our endangered salmon, sustaining access to health care for children from low-income families, and helping distressed rural counties become part of the economic mainstream.
To meet these challenges, I’m pressing every state agency for new efficiencies, for clearer priorities, and for better, faster, and less expensive service to citizens. But the fact of the matter is that state government cannot meet the challenges of workforce training and education by itself. We need your help.
We need your help to raise public awareness of the importance of this challenge. We need your help to continue to develop skill standards, curriculum, and teacher training. We need your help to ensure that our high school and middle school students understand the opportunities that are available to them if they work hard and master our high academic standards. And we need your help to persuade the legislature that the expenditures I’m proposing are an essential investment in Washington’s future.
We all want the good jobs that you create to be available to the good citizens of Washington State. We want our public schools, our community colleges, and our universities to help both our students and our information technology industry thrive in the century ahead. And most of all, we want the doors of learning and opportunity to be open for every student, of every age. No Washington resident should ever be denied opportunities to upward mobility and a challenging career because there is no room for them in the courses and programs they need to move ahead.
So I want to thank you, once again, for the leadership you are providing on this issue. This industry is truly one of Washington’s most important treasures. Working together, I am convinced that we can make real progress in the legislative session that begins in January. And I look forward to working with all of you to make it happen.
Thank you very much.