04/01/2015 04:32 pm ET | Updated Jun 01, 2015

Staying Abreast of Changing Technology
by Lt. Gen. Clarence E. McKnight, Jr.

"Along with disruptive technologies comes disruption in skills requirements," said Stacey Wagner, Principal of the JarrettWagner Group, LLC, a leading expert in helping manufacturers develop worker skills. "New requirements take some time to fully understand and to teach - once they have been identified."

I believe Wagner has put her finger on the main problem facing not only manufacturing but also the military services -- why finding qualified people is so difficult. "Today's advanced manufacturing workplace requires employees with a multitude of advanced technical skills, as well as emotional intelligence, communication facility, talent in cognition and analysis, imagination, a capacity for systems thinking and creativity in problem solving," she said.

The military has the same problem finding people who can handle modern communications and stay ahead of the technology curve. Technology is advancing so quickly that by the time service people emerge from basic training and report for duty, their skills are already becoming obsolete. What we need is a new concept of education and training that begins in elementary school, a more diverse curriculum that empowers people to quickly adapt to stay ahead of the curve of advancing technology.

Without question, the foundation of that curriculum should and must be a strong focus on the STEM subjects - science, technology, engineering and mathematics. We may not know exactly what game-changing technologies will next appear on the horizon, but people well-grounded in the STEM subjects will be uniquely qualified to analyze and master them.

Today we are engaged in a new kind of war against an elusive enemy that is at home with digital technology and the Internet. They are encouraging our own citizens to take up their cause - to come join them in battle or to subvert our security on the home front. Our security apparatus is tracking this onslaught and identifying people who succumb to the message, but even so a few are joining terror groups in the Mideast or carrying out acts of terror here at home.

To oppose this new enemy, we must first master the technology. The digital revolution is rapidly remaking every phase of our lives from the front office to the factory floor, from the command centers to the soldiers in the field. Engineering and mathematics are closely intertwined with advances in technology. We must think in terms of preparing a new generation of young people who have a deep comprehension of basic engineering and mathematical concepts. They need the skill sets that will enable them to confront unexpected challenges and work their way through them.

Money alone will not solve the problem. We don't need more people, we need better prepared people. We have to raise the bar even if that means teachers must meet more rigorous standards and marginal students are held back. Our nation's security depends on it.


Lt. Gen. Clarence E. "Mac" McKnight, Jr., (USA-Ret) is the author of "From Pigeons to Tweets: A General Who Led Dramatic Change in Military Communications," published by The History Publishing Company.