Local leaders say conversations will continue at home after a meeting at Apple Inc. headquarters in Cupertino, California, last month.
Education and technology were the focus of a series of meetings held Jan. 14 between more than a dozen area representatives and the technology giant’s employees.
“We learned a lot about the directions that technology is changing our lives, our work life and our education life, specifically,” Natalie English, president and CEO of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, said following the visit.
Technological changes will shape the classroom, and thus the future workforce and the economy, English said. How the area keeps up with emerging technological trends in the education system will create more opportunities for New Hanover County students, she added.
A group of fourteen people attended the trip and consisted of representatives from the chamber, New Hanover County, the city of Wilmington, New Hanover County Schools, Cape Fear Community College, University of North Carolina Wilmington and Live Oak Bank.
The Wilmington chamber coordinated the trip with Apple, English said, adding that the group was chosen based on the individuals’ understanding of emerging technologies and the area’s education systems and workforce needs.
Apple initially approached Woody White after Hurricane Florence hit the area in September 2018, when White was chair of the county commissioners board, to discuss how the company could assist in the recovery and to learn about the state of county schools, English said.
Conversations continued over the next year, and a representative from Apple’s Corporate Responsibility Program initiated the group’s trip to the company’s headquarters in January, she said.
Other schools systems in North Carolina, state education officials and legislators have taken similar trips to Apple. The firm offered Lexington City Schools an option to purchase iPads for the school system last year. And months after a small group of state officials went to Apple in 2017, N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson announced a multi-million-dollar purchase of iPads for public schools.
However, no solicitation of Apple’s services or products, including iPads, took place before or after the meeting with New Hanover County’s group this year, according to the Wilmington chamber.
White, who is no logner commissioners chair, said in a briefing of the visit to commissioners last month that the daylong meeting at Apple lasted about nine hours and consisted of talks with employees and executives from the firm’s education departments and advanced technologies division.
“The topics over those eight or nine hours ranged but centered really around common themes relative to informational literacy … Now we all know that most of the literacy challenges we face is informational, access to technology, understanding how to use it to improve the quality of your life … many are deprived of that opportunity of learning,” White said.
Leaders during the trip also viewed presentations on augmented reality and machine learning and learned how technology is changing the future of education and the challenges facing children in schools, he said.
English said she also learned of the state’s workforce gaps in the computer science field.
There were more than 18,000 open computing jobs alone in North Carolina, according to N.C. State University’s William and Ida Friday Institute for Educational Innovation. In 2016, however, there were only 1,200 students who graduated in the state with a computer science degree.
Computing jobs can have average salaries of over $90,000 a year, English said, adding that there could be ways to help better develop the area’s talent, which would also impact the local economy.
The next steps and initiatives that could come out of the visit have yet to be determined, English said.
The chamber organized a follow- up meeting with the local group two weeks after the visit.
“We are going to come back together and start to engage the institutions and the business community to determine what is that big thing,” English said. “It takes longer to get to that point. Ultimately it will take more than just those of us who were in the room [with Apple] to agree on that.
“But what we did agree on is that we have a shared passion for making sure our educational institutions are aligned with the needs of our employers to be developing the best workforce to fill those needs, which then gets people into jobs out of poverty and makes us really attractive from an economic development perspective.”