Path Home Shows 2013 Show Archive September 2013 Show 1337 It Doesn't Take a Rocket Scientist

It Doesn't Take a Rocket Scientist

Rocket scientist Norm Augustine believes what happens in today's classrooms will determine our country's future.
It Doesn't Take a Rocket Scientist

It Doesn't Take a Rocket Scientist

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Lockheed Martin


Show Details

Show 1337: It Doesn't Take a Rocket Scientist
Air Date: September 15, 2013



Rob McClendon: It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know the future of our economy is tied to today’s educational outcomes. But my next guest says it doesn’t hurt being one either. Norm Augustine is a one-time rocket scientist who went on to become the CEO of the aerospace giant Lockheed Martin and says what happens in today’s classrooms will determine our country’s future from the boardroom all the way to the factory floor.

Norman Augustine: You know, if you visit a classroom in America, it’ll look very much like it looked when I went to school or when my parents went to school. There are desks, blackboards, chalk and so on. Technology is beginning, just beginning to have an impact, finally. But our, by world standards, we’re losing ground, and that’s really important because our educational level is going to determine whether we can compete for jobs around the world. And our young people, if they don’t have the education of a young man or woman in Korea or China, the jobs will go to Korea or China. It’s so easy today to move work abroad. And it’s not just in the factories, it’s in most fields. There are accounting firms now who move their accounting abroad, tax firms move their tax preparation abroad. If you have a CAT scan read today in America, there’s a good chance that it will be read by a physician in either Australia or in India. And U.S. companies have software written in Bangalore, India. And they write their daytime, which is our nighttime, transmit it here in a millisecond, and it could be tested here and sent back there at the beginning of their work the next day. So the world is flat, it absolutely is, and in that world, Oklahoma doesn’t compete with Ohio, as I said in my remarks. It competes with Osaka and other places like that.

Rob: Are the STEM skills you have been talking about today, and we’ve been talking about, are they just as important on say, the factory floor? Because Lockheed produces a lot of things as they are, say, in the design room for the engineers.

Augustine: Yeah, I think that the STEM skills are inherent in most of the jobs that are going to be available in the years ahead. And today as we sit here there are 3 million jobs open in the United States, most of which require STEM capabilities, and most of the people who applied don’t have STEM capabilities. And that’s the STEM gap. That’s the dilemma we face.

Rob: So as a rocket scientist, what is your formula for 21st century jobs for the U.S.?

Augustine: You know if we’re going to have jobs in the 21st century, I think there are two things we’ve got to do much better at among many others, but two stand out. One is to improve our K-12 education system, particularly in STEM, and the second is to increase our investment in basic research because that’s where ideas come from, knowledge. And the reason this is so hard to get across is education takes a long time, research takes a long time, and as a nation, we’re focused on solving problems right now. We’re not good at solving problems that take 10 years to solve. And we’ve got to learn to do that because if we don’t educate our young people in STEM, if we don’t invest in basic research, the jobs are going to just keep going out of this country. In one recent period, there were U.S. companies created 2.9 million new jobs. But they got rid of 2.4 million jobs in the U.S. at the same time. The 2.9 million were abroad, and so that’s the world we’re headed for if we don’t start doing things differently. And by doing differently I mean we’ve got to bring the free enterprise system to education in this country.

Rob: And I want you to talk more about that. What do you mean by bringing the free enterprise system into education?

Augustine: To me, bringing the free enterprise system to education is to bring the strategy, if you will, that’s worked so well in every other area including our higher education system. And what it means is to introduce competition into education. It means to pay a physics teacher whatever it takes to get a physicist to teach physics, not to ask the phys ed teacher to teach physics. It means paying a great teacher more than a good teacher and to helping a poor teacher find something else for a career. It means giving the parents options of where their kids go to school. It’s all those things that have made the free enterprise system so effective. And I think if it comes down to one word, it’s competition. We all excel under competition. And we all tend to find the things that we’re good at, and that’s true of education as well.

Rob: And we’ve talked mostly about younger students, but what is the role in this ever-evolving economy of retraining and skills?

Augustine: Great question. In my remarks that I just made, I referred to the fact that the first trajectory I ever calculated, being a space engineer of sorts, I did it with a slide rule, and it was a trajectory from Earth to Mars, and that’s in my lifetime, and today a computer cranks that out in a nanosecond. And if you don’t keep up with going from slide rules to computers, from going to standard biology to microbiology, from going conventional oil recovery to fracking, if you don’t keep up, your career will be dead-ended and you’ll be middle age by the time you’re 30, professionally. And keeping up, I think, requires a great support for community colleges. Also our great universities, but I think community colleges have a particularly important role in keeping a workforce that’s current.