(Michael Chamberlain/Nevada Business Coalition) – The Internet is all abuzz with reports of a meeting between lawmakers of both parties and representatives of high-tech companies. Those representatives stated that, while Nevada provides an attractive business climate, the lack of sufficient workers with skills these firms need presents challenges for the state.
Unfortunately, much of the commentary on the web has served to reinforce the fallacy that tax and spending restraint is at odds with the goal of providing workers with the skills needed to attract businesses to the Silver State. Providing both a friendly business climate and an educated workforce are possible.
Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford commented about the meeting.
“In the long term, we need to know exactly what their positions are and the skills for those positions so we can make sure our community colleges and universities are providing those.”
He said higher education needs to position itself to meet the demands.
“This is something our community colleges need to be very responsive to, and the universities,” he said. “They can’t continue to train in areas that aren’t 21st century needs. That is part of the message that has to be sent to higher education in general. They’ve got to adapt based on the innovation of the new economy as well.”
Bravo, Senator Horsford, we couldn’t agree more. The higher education system in the state of Nevada needs to focus on training young people in the skills that employers can utilize. But we also need to recognize that not all education programs are created equal when it comes to economic development.
At the Nevada 2.0 Economic Conference last month, Dr. Robert Lang of Brookings West made a very interesting statement regarding education and economic development that has not been widely (if at all) reported in media coverage of the event. Dr. Lang expressed the view that increased financial commitments to engineering, sciences and other programs that are more likely to contribute to economic development may have to come at the expense of the humanities and other programs that are not so well-suited. Even Dr. Lang was forced to admit that trade-offs are necessary.
If the purpose of education is to drive the economy and train people in the skills needed for the jobs companies considering moving to Nevada are going to need to fill, then education resources should be directed toward those areas. If General Electric is going to expand in Nevada, it will likely need engineers and scientists and accountants and managers along with economics and finance professionals. It is not going to need experts in Jazz Studies or Dance or Women’s Studies, which are all major fields of study offered by UNLV.
Rather than further increase the burden on Nevada’s long-suffering businesses and families, the state of Nevada and its higher education system need to prioritize their spending. If it is indeed determined that greater resources devoted to certain programs will promote economic growth and diversification, then we can fund those programs with existing resources shifted from other programs.
We cannot be all things to all people. If we wish the higher education system to be an economic driver and to attract high-tech employers to the state then we need to turn our focus toward the programs that will help accomplish those goals and away from those that will not. If this focus requires devoting more resources to certain fields of study, then those resources will have to come at the expense of others. Maintaining a friendly business climate and providing a skilled workforce are not mutually exclusive.
(Michael Chamberlain is Executive Director of Nevada Business Coalition.)