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Posted: January 01, 2012

State of the state: Telecom

Comcast Executive Says High-Tech Focus Leaves Some Students Behind

You'd think the executive vice president of a company that employs 6,000 engineers would like nothing more than for educators to focus on the skill sets needed to prepare students for advanced technology jobs.

That certainly would help David Cohen of Comcast Corp., which has about 5,000 vacant jobs right now, most of which he notes require technical skills. But technology jobs are not for everyone, Cohen told a group of business leaders gathered in late October for an Urban League breakfast in Denver.
With so many students failing to graduate high school or enter college, it's simply not realistic to expect that a large percentage of them will ever possess the skills needed to become engineers or take on other advanced technology jobs, he said.

"To be a truly competitive nation, to truly be the best economy in the world and to preserve our status as a world leader across the spectrum, we need to do more than just invest in and generate super high-skilled technology jobs," Cohen said.

While Comcast employs about 1,500 engineers in Colorado, many of the positions the company fills are for technicians. They don't necessarily require a college degree, though the skills required have grown more complex with improvements in technology, he said.

"To be a Comcast technician today, you have to be able to do more than climb on a ladder, drill a hole through the wall, run a coaxial cable and screw it into the back of a television set," he said. "Our products are way more sophisticated than that. We've had to accelerate our job training and have partnerships to make sure we have qualified employees to be able to do those jobs."

Cohen, who served as chief of staff for the mayor of Philadelphia in the '90s, said more efforts need to be made to identify what jobs could replace the manufacturing positions of the last two centuries: good-paying jobs that allow a two-wage earner family to have a good quality of life. For Philadelphia in the '90s, hospitality and tourism were sectors government leaders identified.

During an interview after his speech, Cohen said the Occupy Wall Street movement may have been sparked by frustration that the middle class has been eroding.

"I think that is a potential symptom of a country that may be overemphasizing the ultra high tech and ultra advanced job market and neglecting the basic skills job market," he said.

During his talk, Cohen also spoke about Comcast's $30 billion merger with NBC Universal, which makes the company the fifth largest provider of content in the nation - a deal driven by the country's largest cable provider's quest to be able to deliver programming to its customers.

"There is no more appointment television anymore," he said. "People want to watch what they want to watch when they want to watch it where they want to watch it on the device they want to watch it on. They want portability. They want choice."
- Mike Cote

Hartman Ely Investments should have been listed as one of the developers of the first place winner, Total Community Options headquarters, in the commercial category of the Colorado Sustainable Design Awards, published in the November issue.
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