Memphians, a Technami of automation is coming. We can either surf the Technami to success, or be crushed by it, as new technologies eliminate lower-skill warehouse-type work while driving demand for higher-tech skills, demand that we can’t currently meet.
The Memphis Chamber of Commerce’s UpSkill 901 initiative is the first step toward surfing the Technami. Instead of working in a silo, the chamber is partnering with a broad array of nonprofits, businesses, educational organizations and private citizens to figure out how we can collaboratively upskill 10,000 people by 2023 in order to meet the current demands for trained talent.
However, if we really want to surf the Technami to economic prosperity, we need to think bigger, and use this opportunity to reposition Memphis as the global leader in Inclusive Tech, Lifelong Learning and Automation Adoption and get people, foundations, companies and governments to invest in transforming that vision into reality.
Today, Silicon Valley is being rightfully-pilloried for its lack of diversity, ignoring multitrillion dollar markets and excluding a massive talent pool, which means a huge opportunity for Memphis to become a diverse talent hub.
First, we need to accept that we are a majority African-American community, and instead of trying to ignore and downplay that fact, we need to leverage it as a strength. The Black consumer market is worth over $1.3 trillion annually, and African Americans are global trendsetters. Hip Hop alone is a $10B industry, and yet we have neither an overall Black economic-development strategy, nor a tech strategy to leverage our local Black talent and market.
Since tech companies recognize they have a diversity problem, have tons of cash and an insatiable demand for tech talent, rather than try to act as if race, age, gender, sexual orientation, etc. bias doesn’t exist, let’s use that to our advantage to differentiate ourselves, to recruit new businesses, attract outside talent, and retain Memphians already here.
Why not create a center of Black Consumer Innovation, that’s focused on developing new culturally aware technology-enabled entertainment, services and goods designed for, and by, Black Americans? It doesn’t exist anywhere else, so why not here?
Ever accelerating technological-driven change is forcing people and companies to keep up, or get left in the dust. Unfortunately, our educational system is largely designed for a past era, and doesn’t meet the current and future needs of many employers and employees.
While Memphis has many organizations and educational institutions working to provide the soft and hard skills people need, there is no overarching community-wide strategy designed around the needs of employees already in the workforce to help them get the skills they need to grow their earnings, and fill the new jobs being created.
As far as I can tell, no community in America has a lifelong learning strategy designed to ensure every child and adult can excel in the new knowledge economy, which means a great opportunity for Memphis to be a pioneer.
Surfing the Technami will require more than just upskilling individuals, it will require upskilling entire companies by lowering the barriers to adoption so companies big and small can adapt.
After all, how are you supposed to integrate robotics, computer vision, drones and 3D printing into your business, if you’ve never seen or had the chance to experiment with the concepts? While the cost of the new technologies is dropping, the initial intellectual and monetary capital required to successfully deploy them is still high, so we need new institutions and services to help organizations adopt the new technologies.
We need physical centers of excellence and innovation where people can affordably learn about and experiment with new technologies, as well as consultants who can advise organizations about how to adopt and adapt.
While we currently lack any formal strategy to help our businesses adapt, so does every other community, which again gives us a great opportunity to lead, instead of lag.
While you can debate how big and how fast the Technami will be, it’s coming, so let’s use the opportunity to jump from laggard to leader, lift tens of thousands from poverty to prosperity, build entirely new industrial sectors and drive billions in new economic activity by becoming the leader in inclusive tech, lifelong learning and automation adoption.