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John Florez: We need to demand politicians who take risks for country

Published: Saturday, Aug. 18 2012 2:11 a.m. MDT

The United States Capitol building

Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press

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Politicians tell us they will create jobs but never tell us how or what kind. Americans should not accept glib solutions — less government, less regulations or more government jobs. They keep talking about bringing jobs back, yet the old ones have gone forever.

America is in deep trouble and needs leaders who can be honest with us about the problems we face, and tell us how we can work together to solve them. We know the next generation will not be better off; many of our institutions, such as education and government, are slow to respond to today's global and digital economy. Yet, while our world is changing exponentially, we continue to make incremental changes — a recipe for failure.

With the convergence of globalization and the IT revolution, no one's job is safe. Every industry, service and business is being displaced and new markets being created. The good paying jobs are up for grabs and can be filled by anyone around the world if they have the skills.

We continue to argue and romanticize our idea of local control over education while other nations — such as China and India — have made a national investment in education. U.S. politicians and education policymakers continue to make minor changes to an education system that needs restructuring to meet the demands of a changing economy.

America has been a world leader because we had elected leaders who had bold ideas. They provided a vision and called all Americans to join them. They believed our government had a role in leading, acting as a catalyst to move America forward.

They created those institutions that made our economy the strongest in the world — elementary and higher education; a stable regulatory environment; research and development; and finance. They had audacious ideas like going to the moon, creating the National Academy of Science and the Internet. Now, we once again need leaders who understand the new global economy that calls for knowledge, imagination, creativity and innovation. Today's leaders must have the courage to renew and restructure our institutions for the new world starting with education that can prepare students to be the innovators in generating new jobs for a new flat and digital world.

While there are many future jobs that require higher education, there are those jobs that will require higher skills to build, install, repair and operate the new equipment and systems needed to revive our manufacturing industry. We need both to succeed.

Elected leaders now are more concerned about keeping their seat, so fight for the status quo. They fear risk taking. Our schools fail to try new ideas that allow students to connect class-based learning with work-based learning created during the Clinton administration. Other countries such as Germany have high school students prepare for technical skilled jobs or go on to higher learning. Higher education needs to be shored up so it can continue to do research that will create new ideas that create jobs.

Americans used to trust their leaders that they were willing to risk and do the right thing for the public good. Now the trust has diminished, yet we fail to challenge our elected leaders. We have become complacent and many feel they are helpless to make a difference. The stakes are too high. It's not only the future of our children that is at risk, but also our nation as well. Until we begin demanding our politicians go beyond the sound bites and lay out specific steps as to how they create jobs, we may end up believing it's the best we can do.

A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served as former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education. Email him at jdflorez@comcast.net.

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