Information Communication and Technology (ICT) advances are changing the way we live, learn, work, and even plan. In Issue 4 of the Weekly Planner, we looked at how Teleworking can be a business tool that benefits both employers and employees. Recently, Commissioner Brian Hollands, recognizing the continued rise in use of technology, asked staff to brief the Planning Commission how continuing technological advancement will potentially impact commuting to work and school as well as future office/school space needs.
There is no doubt that technology is speeding along. We have gone from the era of the 1960s mainframe computer taking up an entire room or office level to a computer you can fit in the palm of your hand (your smart phone). This is not much of a stretch from devices used in classic science fiction shows like Star Trek. Imagine being able to simply take a picture of water to find out if it's safe to drink or not. A phone app being developed by a student was recently featured in Wired Magazine. We can now practice surgery on virtual patients and soon will be performing telesurgery. USF's CAMLS, a $25 Million medical simulation facility under construction right now in Downtown Tampa, will do just that. All of these advances in computer hardware and software will allow us to work and learn almost anywhere and anytime.
Virtual School has become virtual reality and continues rapid growth made possible by ICT advances. In 2010, supplemental or full-time online learning opportunities were available to at least some students in 48 of the 50 states plus Washington, DC. iNACOL estimates more than 1.5 Million K-12 students were engaged in online and blended learning for the 2009/2010 school year. Florida is a leader in the field. Started in 1997, the Florida Virtual School enrolled 120,000 students in the 2010/2011 school year. Hillsborough County accounts for 9% of all Florida Virtual School students, many of which use the system to supplement Advanced Placement (AP) Courses.
At the same time that technology is advancing, there's been a shift in the U.S. from a predominately manufacturing-based workforce to a knowledge-based workforce, which can thrive with the alternative work and educational opportunities afforded by Information and Communication Technology improvements. Proponents say more telework will decrease office space needs, improve air quality, and increase the productivity and retention of the highly skilled employees who companies invest heavily in to recruit and train. This alternative work style is becoming more common. Consider some interesting facts from the experts:
- 34 Million U.S. adults telecommute at least occasionally, and that number will rise to 63 Million - a whopping 43% of the workforce - by 2016 according to a 2009 study by Forrester Research
- A WorldatWork 2008 Survey of 2,288 U.S. employers indicated 42% allowed staff to work remotely - up from just 30% in 2007 - that's a 40% increase in just one year!
- The Federal Office of Personnel Management reported 102,000 federal teleworkers in 2009
- 16 Million small businesses are home-based, about half of the small business economy! - United States Small Business Administration, Office of Advocacy, The Small Business Economy 2007-A Report to the President
- 1/3 of all workers are telecommuting more frequently to deal with rising fuel prices - the Edge Report, 2008 Robert Half International Survey citing other alternatives including 46% by carpooling, 33% by driving more fuel efficient cars, and 30% looking for job closer to home
- 6% of all Hillsborough County workers work from home, much higher than the national average of 4.3%, according to the 2009 American Community Survey
So, how do we merge future technological vision with today's reality? The way we work and learn is changing. Will increasing alternative work and educational options change how much office space we plan for, how many road lanes we need, and how many school facilities we will need? The answers to these questions are uncertain. While future trends seem to be moving in a certain direction, the impact to things like transportation does not seem significant in the short term. Recent studies from the University of California - Davis show less than a 0.8% system wide impact from teleworking. And, Virtual Schools are an alternative, not a replacement, to traditional schooling. The value of direct human interaction in peer and student/teacher relationships is invaluable. And, getting computers into every home, and training families to operate and maintain them, remains a logistical and financial challenge. Currently in Hillsborough County, 66% of all Virtual School students use the program as only a supplement to their traditional school.
Planning for ICT is important. In the current economy, with gas prices continuing to rise, workers continue to seek ways to stretch their incomes. In the Edge Report, 2008 Robert Half International Survey, 72% of employees said flexible work arrangements would cause them to choose one job over another, 37% specifically citing telecommuting. Looking towards the future, as discussed in Branding Our Quality of Life in Issue 22 of The Weekly Planner, the next generation, or creative class, wants to work in the type of high-tech, knowledge-intensive industries that thrive on these types of alternatives. To make our region flourish, our planning must be flexible enough to harness their economic power. As demands change, our planning adapts too. ICT may only be one such change we need to incorporate, as we consider a more virtual-centric future for many work and school functions as well as shopping and entertainment, etc. Coordinating land use and transportation planning to provide seamless connections will appeal to the creative class, already fully-emerged in the world of technology. They are seeking a quality of life with a meaningful, balanced lifestyle and choices. These choices will surely include being on top of the latest and greatest advances in Information Communication and Technology.