Education Event Recap: A Conversation About Growing Los Angeles' Tech Workforce
Thursday night in Los Angeles, GOOD and University of Phoenix hosted "Now Hiring: A Conversation About Growing Los Angeles' Tech Workforce," a panel discussion about how schools, businesses, and government can work together to ensure that we're educating the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) professionals of the future.
The panel was moderated by GOOD CEO and co-founder Ben Goldhirsh and featured an impressive group of influencers making a difference in Los Angeles—Peter Diamandis, Founder and Chairman, X PRIZE Foundation; Eric Garcetti, the President of the Los Angeles City Council; Eric Hirshberg, CEO, Activision Publishing; Bernadette Lucas, Principal, Melrose Elementary Math Science Technology Magnet; and Blair Smith, Dean, College of Information Systems & Technology, University of Phoenix.
The panelists shared their perspectives on what it will take to turn Los Angeles into the next Silicon Valley, and engaged with audience members and the online community about what we can all do to help K-12 schools, colleges, businesses and community organizations set up students for success.
For those that couldn't join us, you'll find event photos and a recap of the conversation's highlights on the slides above. We look forward to continuing the conversation.
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Moderator Ben Goldhirsh kicked things off by sharing how the demand for STEM professionals in Los Angeles and other cities far outpaces supply. It is predicted that tech workforce jobs will grow twice as fast jobs in other sectors.
Technology is changing so quickly, Peter Diamandis said, that one of the big things he tells people is that they have to train for the tech of the future, not the tech we have now. Both he and Eric Hirshberg shared that when they talk to students and interns, they all want to run their own business. While that entrepreneurial spirit is great, Diamandis and Hirshberg are concerned that students simply see being a tech entrepreneur as an opportunity to cash out, and that there's less focus on mastering skills and becoming experts in a field.
Eric Garcetti, who is widely regarded as the front-runner in Los Angeles' upcoming mayoral race, said that he wants to see innovation hubs throughout the city, not just businesses moving to Los Angeles. Right now, he said, Los Angeles politicians seek to comply with regulations, not to innovate. He also said that more collaboration between Los Angeles' many universities needs to happen, and he'd like to see every local business working with a local school. For example, Hollywood High School is in close proximity to the Jimmy Kimmel Show, so there should be a "seamless internship program" for kids.
Bernadette Lucas, principal of Melrose Elementary Math Science Technology Magnet, shared that her school had the highest academic growth in the state last year because they focused on STEAM: science, tech, engineering, art and math. She said that the emphasis on those has to start in Pre-K. Even if a students end up in non-tech careers, they still benefit from the skills they learn through studying things like engineering.
When asked if what has happened at Melrose Avenue is just due to its charismatic principal, Lucas said it's a matter of priorities and that she believes that the Melrose model is replicable. However, she emphasized that the public needs to support schools.
Blair Smith agreed with Lucas on the need to start introducing tech to students at an early age. He also shared that we need to think outside the box on how we share that technology: using online learning apps, for example, or connecting students to tech mentors.
Lenny, a college student in the audience, asked, "What can the average person can do to help Los Angeles' tech workforce grow?"
Garcetti said that STEM professionals and teachers need to get connected to each other and was adamant that everyone should be supporting a classroom through Donor's Choose. He also emphasized that we need to put pressure on the state to increase funding to schools.
Smith agreed with Garcetti about the need to pair industry professionals with students interested in tech because it gives them an idea what a job is like.
Hirshberg shared that students don't just wake up one day and want to learn how to code. Instead, they want to learn coding because they have a passion for video games. He encouraged everyone to help students find their passion, because then they'll be excited about STEM.
Los Angeles' King of Green, Mud Baron, was in attendance and presented each panelist with a box of heirloom tomatoes. He asked about the future of food and technology, because hospitality is a huge industry in L.A. Diamandis said he believes that Los Angeles is perfectly positioned at the intersection of tourism and agriculture, and he believes in the future we'll see skyscrapers turned into vertical farms.
Another audience member said that STEM education requires great teachers, but there are so many layoffs. How do we ensure people become teachers when they can make more money doing something else? Lucas reiterated that we need to support educators. However, she said her staff wasn't all science and math majors so she provides them with professional development on how to teach students the content at a high level.
Another audience member, Erin Ross of City Year-Los Angeles, noted that the reality is kids don't have access to the internet, which makes it hard to become tech workers.
Lucas shared how all third-fifth graders at Melrose Avenue have their own laptop and LAUSD is moving to that level of tech, but schools also have to look at their own budgets. She says she is cutting budget in other areas to afford tech for her school.
What really got the audience buzzing—both in person and online—was when the conversation turned to how other parts of the world are doing more to ensure access to one-to-one laptops. Diamandis noted that more kids in Ecuador will have laptops than students in Los Angeles, which brought out the jokes from Garcetti, who said that if the city raises taxes on cigarettes to $150, we can get a computer for every kid in LAUSD.
A question came from Twitter about whether Los Angeles needs a lawsuit to provide tech access to every student. Diamandis noted that the United Nations recently said that internet is a basic human right, so legal action may be needed. However, Garcetti cautioned that even if we have a lawsuit, LAUSD's budget won't magically be increased. The district needs money to buy technology. Hirschberg added that this is where cultural issues come into play. "Who can argue that teachers need to be paid more? Why do schools have to squabble over money?" he asked.
Lucas reiterated that LAUSD gets a bad rap but there are some pockets of real innovation happening. We need to support the efforts happening across the district to get things right.
Goldhirsh closed things out by thanking the panelists and encouraging everyone to continue the conversation and decide what they can each do to grow this city's tech workforce.