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The following article was written by Coleman Patterson and appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.

New technologies bring global need for new skills, September 22, 2007, 2D.

In a speech to students at Day of Affirmation ceremonies at the University of Capetown in South Africa, June 6, 1966, Senator Robert F. Kennedy said: “There is a Chinese curse which says, 'May he live in interesting times'. Like it or not, we live in interesting times...”  Whether or not Kennedy’s statement is of Chinese origin or meant to be a curse is debatable, but what is true is that it still applies to our times today. 

As an example of the times in which we live, I typically show my students a picture of my grandmother’s high school class taken with one of her town’s most famous winter residents.  The students in the picture of the Fort Myers (Florida) High School class of 1924 surround an old Thomas Edison who is seated in a large wicker chair.  From the beginning of mankind until the time of Edison (i.e., a man who had his picture taken with my grandmother), people had to use some type of flame to see after the sun went down.  Electric lights are something that we take for granted today—along with countless other inventions and advancements.

We live in times of rapid innovation and change.  Things that seemed unimaginable only a few decades ago are now commonplace today.  Advances in science, medicine, and computer and information technology have changed the ways that people live, work, communicate, and play.  It seems that the pace of development of new technologies is ever increasing. 

The skills, competencies, and abilities required to thrive in our rapidly changing world are also changing.  Workers wanting to compete for and hold cutting-edge jobs need skills in mathematics, science, and engineering—skills that take many years of intense education and training to learn.  Hard work, dedication, and years of formal study will be required to prepare tomorrow’s workers for tomorrow’s workplace.  Rapid change also demands that today’s workers continuously upgrade and improve their skills to be relevant in tomorrow’s workplace. 

Today’s changing technology is also making it easier for people from other countries to compete for jobs that have long been out of their reach.  In total, the populations of just China and India are more than seven times that of the United States.  The technologies that we use and continue to develop make it easier for millions of highly skilled and educated overseas knowledge workers from China, India, and other countries (who are hungry for high-paying jobs) to compete for the best and most innovative jobs in the marketplace.

We live in interesting times—times that require new sets of skills and competencies to succeed and thrive in the workplace.  Modern and future technologies require modern and future job skills.  Parents should encourage their children to master and pursue science and mathematics education.  Young people should position themselves through education and work experiences to make themselves relevant in tomorrow’s marketplace, and current workers should continuously upgrade and develop their skills and abilities to remain relevant and productive.  Are our interesting times a curse?  You decide.

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© 2006, 2007, 2008  Coleman Patterson, All Rights Reserved