Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Where Will Silicon Valley Get Its Workforce For The Turnaround?

Posted by Tom Foremski - October 9, 2009

Tamara Carleton is a doctoral student at Stanford University, studying innovation culture and technology visions. She writes in NewGeography.com that over the next few years Silicon Valley will be facing a test of its abilities to reinvent itself and to remain relevant.

Based on a recent in-depth research study of global innovation networks, several elements will be essential to the future success of the Bay Area. Two critical but often overlooked factors are specifically community colleges and local demographics.

She writes that Silicon Valley's tier-one universities: Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley play a critical role but they distract attention to the importance of other local schools, which play a very important role and are often overlooked.

...community colleges provide the bedrock for the region's university ecosystem. They channel bright students up the local educational chain, helping train and transfer them to the upper tiers.

Bay Area community colleges are important gateways for ambitious foreign students -- and as we know: Silicon Valley thrives because of its incredible diversity in its teams.

Foothill-De Anza admits more international students than any other community college in the U.S.

The community colleges also learn to do more with less. Although state-assisted, Foothill-De Anza funds students at a relatively low rate of $4019 per student, even compared to other national community colleges that average $8041 per student.

Despite having to do more with less, Silicon Valley's community colleges have some impressive plans, which include a partnership with UC at Santa Cruz to build a new multi-billion dollar university campus on the heart of Silicon Valley at NASA Ames Research Center. This venture also includes Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and San Jose State University.

The new campus will include a new School of Management, major science laboratories, engineering facilities, classrooms, and homes for 3,000 people on 75 acres. The backers are hopeful that this will lead to a "sustainable community for education and research." If all goes accordingly to plan, this university will offer a new model of education that combines the best of a local community college, local metropolitan school, two universities at a distance, and a strong industry partner.

Ms. Carleton notes that local population growth won't be able to provide SIlicon Valley with its future workforce. It has to rely on foreign-born workers.

AnnaLee Saxenian, a dean at the University of California at Berkeley, considers this global migration and circulation to be critical in maintaining regional advantage. Foreign immigration has driven Silicon Valley's population growth. Looking solely at U.S. Census data estimates for the period of 2000 and 2003, foreign migration to the metropolitan cluster of San Francisco, Oakland, and Fremont rose by 10 percent each year, while domestic migration dropped by nearly 14 percent on average.

But Silicon Valley loses top talent because foreign-born students can't get work visas, and domestic students are leaving for other regions.

She says that it is important to understand generational differences. Gen X (born 1961 - 1981) is the "most entrepreneurial generation in U.S. history, but the smallest in size, so policymakers easily overlook them."

...the average age for a U.S.-born technology entrepreneur to start a company is 39, which sits squarely in Gen X. This generation has already become the primary engine for Silicon Valley. Second, this generation has the best academic training and international experience in American history. They may be small in their weight class, but Gen X packs a hefty punch overall. The challenge will be for the Bay Area to retain this population group, as their family and career needs shift.

In contrast, the Millennials (born 1982 to 2005) are less entrepreneurial and "are generally focused on social bonding, authority approval, and civic duty - attributes that may make parents happy, but do not usually drive new economic growth."

As the largest generation in American history, they are proving to be massive consumers of technology and social advocates. By and large, Millennials steer away from high-risk ventures, preferring community-oriented activities, and they bring a different set of demands to the Bay Area.

Although there are large differences in the abilities and ambitions of the different generations -- they complement each other and it's a formula for success.

In the innovation lifecycle, if Boomers serve as advisors and Gen Xers as the entrepreneurs, then the Millennials could provide potent networkers.

But this will only work if the Bay Area can keep these workers here -- and that will be key to the next Silicon Valley innovation upturn.

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Please see: Can Silicon Valley Attract the Right Workforce for its Next Turnaround? | Newgeography.com

VCWatch: Code Red In Silicon Valley Says Bob Ackerman - Government Killing Innovation - SiliconValleyWatcher


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