A viable approach to increasing STEM starts with empathy
Learning about Innovation and Global Competitiveness from Boeing's 787 Dreamliner
Sitting on black chairs in Reagan's Historic Terminal A for the Innovation Summit's keynote interview, veteran Financial Times and Washington Post reporter Edward Luce and Boeing CEO Jim McNerney peered to the tarmac at Boeing's latest feat of aviation engineering. "Why is the 787 better than the Airbus A380?" asked Luce.
The plane is "lighter," and "stronger" -- not to mention more beautiful -- than its peers. But most importantly the design, said McNerney, takes a "huge leap" in reducing aviation's environmental footprint. "We wanted to be able to fly a long way and sip fuel, not gulp it," said McNerney, referencing the plane's 20 percent fuel reduction relative to similar models.
How was this plane of the future, which several thousand people will walk through during its inauguration in Washington this week, created? Creating a plane -- like creating nearly all complex products --involves a lot of players.
While the heart of the engineering behind the plane resides at Boeing, employees of other companies across the United States and in several other countries have been key partners on the 787 program. Luce said that though Boeing's first jets were manufactured 50 years ago with around 5 percent outsourced labor, this latest model was created with 60 percent outsourced domestic and foreign talent. McNerney called that percentage "about right," but added that with the next Dreamliner model his company will outsource a smaller percentage of the engineering.
Utilizing talent at other U.S. and foreign companies has a number of advantages -- not the least of which is the fact that talent resides in many places. McNerney noted that other countries are producing more engineers these days than the United States. The Boeing CEO, who chairs President Obama's Export Council, said that the American government is aware of the "skills shortage" in the United States. One solution to that problem, said McNerney, is a much more liberal immigration policy, "especially as it relates to the kind of workers who fill STEM jobs."
But simply bringing skilled workers into America is not the complete answer, McNerney added. Educating American citizens is the other part. "Our second biggest priority after designing planes is STEM education," he said, mentioning that his company invests heavily in US STEM education at the K-12 level and sees America's investment in that area as crucial to its success in the 21st century.
Boeing, which is the world's largest aerospace company, recognizes the importance of engaging in public policy issues such as education.
"We have to insert ourselves into the dialogue," McNerney said. "If you're not part of the dialogue, you're going to be a loser."
- A love of all things innovation is what first drew Laura to Ashoka, where she works to identify and connect leading social entrepreneurs--innovators applying new solutions to some of the oldest and most entrenched societal problems. She also serves as managing editor of Ashoka's StartEmpathy, the forthcoming online home of a movement focusing on educational innovation. Before coming to Ashoka, Laura worked as Communications Director of a mobile health technology start up building products to bring primary care into the 21st century.
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