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Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell: Tech Industry Must Help Create Jobs For Displaced Workers

‘The tech sector of our economy can think up solutions to almost everything,’ said Rendell at the 2018 Best of Breed Conference. ‘Can technology develop a job that somebody without a college education can do?’

The tech industry needs to help create work for Americans that are being left behind by economic changes, according to Ed Rendell, former Pennsylvania governor.

"Technology can't be the root of the problem," Rendell said at the 2018 Breed of Breed Conference, hosted by CRN parent The Channel Company. "Technology has to be at the root of the solution."

Rendell identified BoB Conference host city Philadelphia as a prime example of America's diverging fortunes. The City of Brotherly Love had just 58,000 people living downtown when Rendell began his first term as governor in 1992. Now, 26 years later, Philadelphia has 167,000 downtown residents, second in the nation only to New York.

[Related: Boom Times: Why 2018 Is Shaping Up To Be A Very Good Year]

But at the same time, Rendell said Philadelphia has a poverty rate that's among the highest of the 20 biggest cities in the U.S.

"The jobs we're creating are leaving behind ordinary people, the people who don't have college degrees or have even attended college," Rendell said.

A generation ago, many blue-collar workers that had been employed by the steel mills were able to be retrained as truck drivers, where base pay typically ranges between $75,000 and $80,000 and annual take-home pay of between $90,000 and $100,000 is possible with overtime, according to Rendell.

But a half-decade from now, Rendell said self-driving trucks will cause these jobs to go away, leaving many Americans in their 40s and 50s jobless. In fact, Rendell said about 6 million Americans, or 2 percent of the nation's population, will be put out of work by the rise of autonomous vehicles, including residents who've been able to boost their wages by driving for Uber or Lyft.

"These blue-collar jobs are going to give way to technology," Rendell said.

And as that happens, Rendell said the nation will need to figure out how to help Americans between the ages of 40 and 60 with less education find jobs and dignity. And while the technology industry has little trouble creating new products and servicesn, Rendell hopes they also can come up with something at a decent wage that a 45-year-old former steelworker is capable of doing.

"The tech sector of our economy can think up solutions to almost everything," Rendell said. "Can technology develop a job that somebody without a college education can do?"

Paul Cohen, sales vice president at Suffern, N.Y.-based PKA Technologies, encouraged companies like Microsoft, IBM, HP and Cisco to set money aside to educate people whose jobs have been displaced by technology.

Specifically, Cohen said education can get workers out of declining industries like manufacturing or transportation and into faster-growing sectors such as technology. Althoughnot all would be suited for highly technical roles, Cohen said they could be retrained to be a salesperson or take another role in for a technology company.

The long-term answer is likely education, said Rendell, who as governor from 2003 to 2011 equipped many public high-0school classrooms in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania with computers and laptops for students and smartboards for teachers.

The push for cutting-edge technology in classrooms was well-received by all stakeholders, Rendell said, with students enjoying solving problems on their laptop rather than regurgitating what a teacher said during a lecture, teachers valuing the focus on skill-building rather than rote memorization, and parents appreciating that it'll make their children more competitive in the workforce of tomorrow.

By ensuring that all children are exposed to the latest technology starting when they are just 3 or 4 years old, Rendell said the U.S. can ensure that its entire workforce is technologically literate 20 or 25 years from now. But Rendell said America still needs to figure out what to do with workers who are currently in their 40s and 50s and are at risk of being replaced by technology.

"I think the autonomous cars are going to be the last straw," Rendell said.

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