Microsoft program promises big things in Texas

Half of recent job openings in Texas, who leads the nation in job growth, required a bachelor's degree, yet only one-third of the population had one. Businesses in North Texas would hire more workers if they had the right training and employers are saying they need more workers in STEM-Science, technology, engineering and Math fields.

An education effort from Microsoft is designed to lessen the job gap. Youth Spark gives grants to youth development groups, fosters public-private relationships and funds research. Its effort targets 50 million kids nationwide, and 300 million around the world.

 "Sometimes, people don't respond to action until there's enough pain," says Cameron Evans, Microsoft's chief technology officer for U.S. education. "We don't want to have that happen in North Texas." 

Evans introduced the Microsoft program to Dallas Education and Business leaders saying that right now they were not producing enough local graduates to fill long term gaps. Research by the Brookings Institution for Microsoft found unemployment for those between the ages of 16-24 is double that of adults. The number is even higher among blacks and Hispanics. The studies also found that one-third of those living in Dallas between those ages are out of work or have only a high school diploma.

Kristin Laramore, strategic engagement leader with GE Capital Equipment Finance, says that Youth Spark represents a way for business to get involved in education.

"We're putting our dollars together around common goals," Laramore said. "We're also changing to more of a skill-based volunteer approach as opposed to just painting, and planting flowers and helping from a beautification perspective. We're getting involved in the curriculum and saying: ‘Hey, these are the things we're looking for from our future workforce.' I think that's just changing how we're involved."

Bill Zeeble of Kera News found that the effort is welcomed by Dallas ISD school board member Elizabeth Jones.

"STEM is everything today," Jones said. "Twenty years ago we saw it start to come into our employment structures. Today, technology is at the front of industry. It is the innovation. It is your future." 

Laramore expects more business, non-profits, and school districts to get involved with the two year-old Youth Spark. Microsoft's Evans says they should.

 "We should see far more businesses incubated here than anywhere, and we should also see our employment gap between those high-wage, high-growth opportunities start to be taken by people who grew up here in Dallas, got educated in Dallas, and are demonstrating they're successful for those jobs."

Evans says the time to step up and develop the talent to close that job gap is now.

01 31, 2014
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