President Alice P. Gast joined other national leaders in Washington, D.C. Thursday for the 25th anniversary of the Council on Competitiveness, a day marked by the public release of the council’s long-awaited strategy to improve American competitiveness and spur economic recovery through increased manufacturing.
The report, "Make: An American Manufacturing Movement," available for free download as a PDF at the Council on Competitiveness website, was presented to private sector leaders, the Obama administration, Congress, and U.S. governors. It outlines bold steps the council believes the nation should take to re-establish the America that President Barack Obama referenced when he recently said, “We should be known for creating and selling products all over the world that are stamped with three proud words: Made in America.”
Gast appeared as a panelist and member of the U.S. Manufacturing Competitiveness Initiative Steering Committee. In particular, she lent her experiences at Lehigh and as a lifelong engineer to the panel discussion, “Harnessing the Power and Potential of American Talent,” where she discussed the best ways for employers to cultivate talent, redesign the college experience to better connect students to the world of work, and increase educational and professional interest in the sciences.
In answering a question about the number one thing the United States needs to do to compete, Gast stated: “I’d advocate for K-16 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education and carry it through the university with opportunities for students to be more creative, build things and learn to connect the dots. They also must be globally competent. What would happen if we gave every engineering student the opportunity to go abroad?
"Just a few years ago, an international study abroad experience was a nice addition to an education. Now, it's essential,” Gast said. “If we don't send our students overseas for an immersive experience, we won't have a globally competent workforce."
Gast described Lehigh’s new Lee Iacocca International Internships as a model for such opportunities where students get hands-on experiences in work, research or service while totally immersed in the foreign culture.
The need for science literacy at all levels
The non-partisan, non-governmental Council on Competitiveness was founded in 1986, the year America became the planet’s largest debtor nation. It comprises leaders from America’s public and private sector whose roles impact the future of American competitiveness. CEOs that lead American manufacturing, technology and energy sectors commit themselves alongside university presidents and labor leaders to form the strategies that will improve American prosperity and “enhance U.S. competitiveness in the global economy.”
Over the past 18 months, Gast and the council have participated in discussions nationwide, producing reports from the perspective of CEOs, industry leaders and university presidents. The crux of Thursday’s public report is this: Despite near-term challenges, America's manufacturing future remains strong if we, as a nation, seize the opportunity.
The council’s major recommendations are not for the faint of heart. They include encouraging investment through a restructuring of the tax code, doubling exports to $3.6 trillion, reducing the trade deficit by more than 50 percent, prioritizing technical education programs and recruiting community colleges into the innovation pipeline, creating smart manufacturing systems and developing energy sources while enforcing efficiency standards.
Appearing on the panel with Gast were: Keith E. Williams, President and CEO and Trustee, Underwriters Laboratories, Inc.; David Arkless, President of Corporate and Government Affairs, ManpowerGroup; Fred Guterl, Executive Editor, Scientific American; Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers, AFL‐CIO. Rana Foroohar, assistant managing editor of TIME magazine, served as moderator.
A key, Gast said, is how manufacturing can be boosted by the still powerful and diverse American education system. One major focus both in Washington and at Lehigh is to continue to stress the importance of the STEM disciplines. Education should take the lead, but universities must do more. Collaboration between companies, governments, universities and unions, said the council, will tap mature talent, strengthen the talent pipeline, and enhance the link between workforce and economic development.
Gast pointed to the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science’s professional science masters programs as a way to provide more specialized education to continuing students or returning adults.
“The more we can have science literacy at all levels, even for people who are going into the labor force without college,” Gast said, “the more they understand science and technology, and the better they contribute to the final product.”
STEM education in K-12 can be improved by partnerships with schools and corporations such as the collaboration occurring at the Broughal Middle School in South Bethlehem. Gast said that we need to excite students by showing them “how things work and why science is interesting” through visiting scientists, engineers and more field trips.