FUSE Fellowship Update: Creating Innovators for Fremont’s Workforce and Beyond
Last year, my big takeaway after 120 conversations with members of the Fremont community was that our advanced manufacturing companies are looking for creative problem solvers and lifelong learners above all else. Brian Paper, the CEO of Bay Area Circuits, said, “I don’t need people who know how to run the machines — I can teach them that. I need people who can solve problems when things go wrong.” And Brian’s not the only one. Businesses in Fremont and across the country need innovators: people who have both an innate desire and the ability to develop new ideas, take action, and improve the world around them. Another example close to home comes from Lisa Stern Haynes, the global staffing lead and senior recruiter at Google. Lisa shared that the primary trait Google seeks in new employees is problem-solving. In other words, how do you work through a problem that you haven’t encountered before?
To be clear, this isn’t innovation in an abstract form (dreaming of what could be). This is innovation directed at answering a specific question or solving a specific challenge (tackling what needs to be done). Innovation in this sense can vary and includes tasks like repairing a machine on the production line, developing better ways of manufacturing, creating new product packaging, and even building the cultural fluency of a global company. Our favorite definition of innovation so far comes from author John Kao: “Innovation is the ability of people to continuously create their desired future.”
After a year of experimenting and making a series of recommendations for how FUSD could help students learn to be innovators, I wondered where else we could create opportunities for people to learn these skills. Schools are a great place to start, but not everybody is in school. These musings led to conversations with Cindy Chadwick, County Librarian/CEO of Alameda County (AC) Library and, ultimately, an invitation from Cindy and Kelly Kline, the former Chief Innovation Officer of the City of Fremont, to spend another year as a FUSE fellow exploring how the AC Library could help people become innovators using the platform, the programs, the collections, and the people of the Library. Needless to say, I’m excited.
Similar to last year, I launched this effort with a listening tour, talking to library members (that’s what our customers like to be called), library staff, parents, students, and other members of the community. In addition to my own listening, I got to piggyback on a year-long AC Library strategic planning process that asked many of the same questions. As with last year, the results have been fascinating.
Here are just a few of my findings:
- The library is one of the few remaining public institutions that our community (and communities across the country) seems to trust. I’ve seen members come talk to librarians about all kinds of personal issues, including health, housing, and employment simply because librarians are trusted to be guides into unfamiliar worlds.
- In a larger sense, libraries are part of our social infrastructure. As Eric Klinenberg describes in his book, “Palaces for the People,” public libraries play a critical, but underappreciated role in our societies as places of social connection. As Klinenberg writes, our social infrastructure “influences seemingly mundane but actually consequential patterns, from the way we move about our cities and suburbs to the opportunities we have to casually interact with strangers, friends, and neighbors. Social infrastructure affects everyone.”
- There are lots of reasons people come to the library (to study, warm up, socialize, read the news, etc.), but overall the library is seen as an institution of knowledge, not just a repository for books. People come here to learn. For example, in talking to power users of our children’s program (people who have come to more than 20 percent of all the programs we offer), I learned that many parents bring their kids specifically because they trust the library to offer enrichments that they can’t provide and that their kids are not getting in school. One mother said she lost count of the number of times she brought an unwilling 10-year-old boy to a program and then left with an enthusiastic participant interested in learning more.
Overall, people seem to trust us enough to try new things. In that sense, the library seems to be an on-ramp for new experiences. This year, I’m going to build on what the community told me we needed last year by creating innovators using the platform of the library. Our first project, codenamed Archimedes, is a dedicated space on the second floor of Fremont Main Library (2400 Stevenson Blvd). Archimedes will serve as the nexus for hands-on learning programs for kids, teens, and adults, including large projects (i.e., tiny houses, airplanes, etc.), and challenge projects with local organizations. Our belief is that even the tiniest project that involves creation provides an opportunity to practice innovation. The goal is to help our members learn and grow the problem-solving and lifelong learning skills that Fremont employers are seeking. And make some cool stuff along the way, of course. So far, we’ve cleared a small space on the second floor, received a grant from the Alameda County Library Foundation, and started holding design sessions with the community to plan the programming, the space, and the culture.
Want to help? Get in touch with me at Pthomas@fremont.gov, and stay tuned for more info.