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Assemblyman
Brian M. Kolb
Assembly District 131
 
Building New York’s “Innovation Economy” Begins With Focusing On Education And Career Skills Development
Legislative column from Assembly Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb (R,I,C-Canandaigua)
May 4, 2012

Willingness to learn. Working well independently and as part of a team. Creative thinking. Effective writing, math and problem-solving skills. Possessing a positive attitude and standing out. According to career consultant, columnist and author Andrea Kay, these are the necessary skills that companies large and small most desire in their employees.

HIGH-SKILLED WORKERS ALWAYS IN DEMAND

Having worked in the private sector as president of Refractron Technologies, and as a co-founder of the North American Filter Corporation, I know that whether they are enjoying an economic boom, or weathering an economic bust, employers have a constant need for highly-skilled and highly-motivated team members. Everything from excellent written and verbal communication to analytical problem-solving skills are important for anyone looking not only to keep their job but also to grow and get ahead in this ultra competitive economy.

BUILDING NEW YORK’S “INNOVATION ECONOMY” WILL CREATE MORE JOBS

The attributes listed above are more than just career survival skills; they are the fundamental building blocks of what I like to call New York’s “innovation economy.” By innovation economy, I am referring to a new approach, a new way of thinking about how we view and do business in New York State. An innovation economy will empower New Yorkers to start a business, grow a business, and develop the real-world skill set they need to succeed in their chosen career, whether working as a teacher, computer technician, auto mechanic or carpenter. More important, an innovation economy will empower the more than 700,000 New Yorkers who are out of work to not only find a job but also develop a rewarding career.

The innovation economy is:

  • Pro-growth, pro-entrepreneur and rewards risk takers;
  • Focused on growing small businesses and entrepreneurial start-ups;
  • Emphasizes lifetime learning;
  • Values vocational training, places a premium on continued skills development; and
  • Seeks to transform government from a command-and-control bureaucratic obstacle into a productive partner that actually helps job creators achieve their goals.

Much like its name implies, innovation – the introduction of something new; be it a new method or a new way of thinking – is at the heart of the innovation economy. Building this innovation economy starts with education and involves new approaches to thinking about what we learn, and most importantly how we learn and how we apply that learning.

CORE COMPETENCIES TO PRESERVE AMERICA’S INNOVATION EDGE

In a recent Forbes article (“Creating Innovators: Why America's Education System Is Obsolete,” by Erica Swallow), Harvard Innovation Education Fellow Tony Wagner offered his perspective on maintaining America’s innovation edge based on two years of research and extensive interviews with recent college graduates, professors, as well as private and public sector leaders. Wagner recommended transitioning from the current approach of filling children with knowledge through rote memorization of things like state capitals, and moving toward a new approach focused on motivating students and developing their innovation skills.

To accomplish this, Wagner advocates a new education model that, recognizing the availability of and ease of access to information (via the Internet and ubiquitous smart phones), focuses on increasing the “skill and will” of students to think creatively and solve problems efficiently. Wagner outlined a set of core educational competencies that every student should have mastered prior to high school graduation in order to continue our culture of innovation including critical thinking and problem solving; initiative and entrepreneurialism; accessing and analyzing information; and developing curiosity and imagination.

MY SMART SOLUTIONS TO BUILD THE INNOVATION ECONOMY: EDUCATION REFORM AND THE PROMOTION OF CAREER TRAINING

New York’s schools and teachers are some of the best in the nation. Yet, as good as they are, I want them to be even better so after establishing a strong base of the three “Rs” they develop the core innovation competencies Wagner outlined. My smart solutions include restructuring the State Board of Regents so it is accountable to the Governor, and not New York’s educational bureaucracy. Also, ensuring that state education aid increases go to high-needs districts and that all funding goes directly to the classroom and not administration. Promoting vocational skills – they should be renamed career skills – development so New York has the next generation of high-skilled electricians, carpenters, machinists, engineers, computer programmers and automotive technicians is equally important. Students should know these careers are just as important – and, in some cases, more lucrative – than a traditional two- or four-year college path.

Fostering innovation, teaching children the basics, instructing them in applying their education, promoting lifetime learning and skills development – these educational cornerstones are the foundations for building New York’s innovation economy.

NEXT WEEK: Part II of my focus on developing New York’s innovation economy by removing barriers, encouraging entrepreneurship and promoting free enterprise.

As always, constituents wishing to discuss this topic, or any other state-related matter should contact my district office at (315) 781-2030, or e-mail me at kolbb@assembly.state.ny.us.

 
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