When someone talks about providing the “MIT of day care” centers, it may sound like an overhyped sales pitch from a desperate publicity department. But when it comes from Qualtrics CEO and co-founder Ryan Smith, people ought to pay attention.
Smith’s Provo-based Qualtrics has been expanding rapidly, not only in Utah but worldwide. He already has led a multi-million dollar program (funded by himself and four tech-industry colleagues) that is designed to bring computer science classes to every Utah elementary, middle and high school by 2022.
His has demonstrated a commitment to education and the future needs of the economy.
Now he wants to more than double the company’s Provo headquarters and include a 40,000-square-foot, cutting-edge day care center that provides children with expert instruction, in age appropriate ways, in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, otherwise known by the acronym STEM.
To underscore how serious he is, Smith has hired Ann Whittaker, founder of Kids Village, a renowned preschool that has garnered several awards for its educational achievements, to head up the project.
“With the help of innovative technology,” Smith said, “teachers will be able to deliver superior care and children will be able to enjoy the learning process.”
As fanciful as it might sound, teaching preschoolers how to code could pay off big down the road.
The economy is shifting from an industrial base to one focused on technology and information, and yet surveys show that millions of STEM-related jobs are going unfilled. Last year, the National Association of Manufacturing and Deloitte predicted about 3.5 million more STEM jobs will exist in the United States by 2025, but that 2 million of them might go unfilled because of a lack of qualified workers. These jobs will exist in a wide variety of fields, from computer programming to manufacturing and agriculture.
The next generation will likely be producing driverless cars and designing vehicles to take explorers ever deeper into space, and it also will be dealing with issues as complex as climate change and the need to increase crop yields. The innovations of the last 30 years, affecting everything from the way people shop to how they communicate, are bound to accelerate, and the United States will need the most innovative and productive workforce it can find to stay ahead of the world.
Often, well-funded private-sector endeavors can do more than slower, bureaucratic and more rule-bound public efforts. By giving children a huge head start in STEM-related learning, Qualtrics could nurture a new generation of discoveries.
Often, well-funded private-sector endeavors can do more than slower, bureaucratic and more rule-bound public efforts.
Not only that, we hope Smith’s efforts — his first “cloud village” is expected to accommodate 250 kids — will spur other companies to do the same.
Smith is bringing 200 new workers to Utah each year, and he needs workers for new offices in Seattle, Chicago, Dublin and elsewhere, as well. The STEM-focused day care center is a selling point for job seekers. Surely, competitors will want to offer similar amenities.
It would be wrong to downplay the other benefits of Qualtrics’ planned expansion in Provo to 355,000 square feet, or the addition of more than 1,000 new jobs. This is great news for Utah County and for the state’s economy, which already is among the nation’s strongest.
But it’s the unique day care center that sets this project apart and has the potential to change the way workplaces interact with families and the economic needs of the future at the same time.