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This week, more than 400 bright young minds -- some as young as 5 years old – are convening at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn to show off their inventions at the National Invention Convention and Entrepreneurship Expo (NICEE), sponsored by United Technologies. Like Henry Ford, these students embody America's tradition of ingenuity, resourcefulness and innovation – and stand at the forefront of a new industrial revolution that is radically transforming every aspect of our lives.

The fourth industrial revolution, driven by rapid technological advances, offers enormous social and economic benefits. At the same time, it has also disrupted nearly every industry – from high-tech to manufacturing and financial services – and transformed many jobs, shifting millions of workers into roles that require new skills. In Detroit and countless industrial and manufacturing hubs across America, this disruption has upended the local economy and forced these cities to find a new way forward.

As president of Otis Elevator Company, a unit of United Technologies, I’ve spent more than 30 years in technology industries and witnessed the third and now the fourth industrial revolutions firsthand. In this new economic landscape, the message is clear: industries must disrupt or be disrupted, and workers must keep up with this exponential pace of change in order to compete in the new digital economy.

However, automotive, building systems and most other industries face many challenges in bridging the skills gap for 21st century design, manufacturing and service. We need to raise the knowledge base of all students and future employees as they go from K through 12 and on to trade schools, community colleges or universities, and the public and private sectors must work together to build training and education systems that are highly responsive to industry trends.

To address this skills gap and strengthen our future workforce, United Technologies invests in more than 30 workforce training programs, including apprenticeships, community college and high school partnerships, digital certificate programs and an industry-leading company-paid higher education program. United Technologies has invested nearly $97 million in the state-of-the-art Auto Air facility just up the road in Lansing, where we are hiring and training hundreds of Michiganders for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

United Technologies is also taking a long view by investing millions of dollars and thousands of volunteer hours in several national and global STEM education initiatives. Our presenting sponsorship of NICEE is an example of our commitment to encouraging the next generation of designers, engineers and innovators, such as Michigan’s own Akhil Arora and Sara Whybark, who won the grand prize at this year’s inaugural Michigan Invention Convention with a wristband they invented that serves as a communication device between deaf and hard of hearing individuals and law enforcement.

Like Elisha Otis, the inventor of the safety elevator, and Henry Ford before them, some of the inventors here this week have won patents for their ideas that solve problems and make our lives a little easier. Most importantly, NICEE moves Michigan and America forward by inspiring innovation through STEM education and setting young people on a course to make a difference in the world.

I am pleased to join these young entrepreneurs and inventors and their families here in Detroit this week to witness their passion for science and invention firsthand. I am also delighted to share some of my own insights about how Otis, United Technologies and other leading industrial companies can truly affect positive change by supporting and encouraging their inventive and entrepreneurial spirit. What they have achieved so far should give us all great confidence in America’s future.

Judy Marks is president of Otis Elevator Company, a unit of United Technologies Corporation.

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