If you think you know the greatest risk that technology poses to Americans, think again.
The biggest technology risk? Our workforce doesn’t have the right skills to keep growing our economy. And the US education and workforce training systems aren’t doing enough about it.
Government leaders, businesses, and individuals can and must step up and make a difference, and the time for action is right now.
The skills gap hurts Americans and American economic growth. Today, nearly 500,000 US computing jobs are unfilled, yet only about 43,000 computer science graduates join the workforce from American universities each year. This huge problem doesn’t just impact the technology sector, a $1 trillion annual economic growth engine for the American economy:
- 67% of computing jobs are outside the tech sector.
- Up to 47% of all US jobs are at risk for automation.
- By 2030, as many as 54 million American workers will need to learn new skills and change occupations, because of advances in technology and automation.
- By 2025, 2 million manufacturing jobs will be unfilled because not enough workers have needed skills like computing, problem-solving and math. In 2011, only 600,000 were unfilled because of skills gaps.
And American manufacturing companies are doing more with fewer workers: They have been producing more overall and more per employee since 1987, even though manufacturing employment is down nearly 40%. The risk to American workers is real and urgent.
Let’s prepare people for secure, well-paying jobs. Computing jobs are the #1 source of new wages in the US. There are nearly 6.3 million jobs in computers and information technology (IT), and 93% pay above the US national average. Programming jobs are growing 50% faster than jobs overall, with coding skills needed for data analysts, artists and designers, engineers and scientists as well as IT workers.
But American schools aren’t preparing our children for future jobs. Like 93% of parents, I want my child’s school to teach computer science. It should be core, like math, not an elective. But I was shocked to discover that only 40% of US schools offer computer science instruction, and only 34 states count computer science classes toward high school graduation.
Even in California — home of Silicon Valley — less than 2 percent of high school students take computer science classes. Far more students take ceramics, though the US has only 41,000 potters who earn $30,000 annuallyon average, less than half the average starting salary in computers. How can we fill jobs and remain globally competitive if we aren’t teaching kids critical skills?
America’s competitors are investing where we are not. The US spends just one-sixth of the rich-country average on job retraining, workforce development centers and adult education subsidies (.1% of GDP).
We’re also behind other developed countries in offering apprenticeship programs that lead to skilled and well-paying jobs: 43 apprentices per 1,000 employed individuals in Switzerland, 40 in Germany and 39 in Australia, and just three in the US in 2014. China invests $250 billion a year to educate tens of millions of young adults, in part to advance national priorities such as alternative energy, biotechnology and hybrid and all-electric cars.
Don’t we owe it to our children, young people, workers displaced by automation, veterans and others the chance to get these jobs? Let us immediately begin reversing the trend:
Government: I urge leaders at the local, state and federal levels to work with industry and educators to make large-scale changes to prepare Americans for the jobs of today and tomorrow. These changes in policy, curricula and funding cannot wait any longer.
Businesses: Especially in tech, companies must invest in STEM education and training, through funds and/or in-kind services to US schools, universities and training programs and through public-private partnerships.
If we want workers with the right skills, we need to put money and effort into nurturing them. This includes helping disadvantaged youth, sponsoring hack-a-thons and coding events, and giving generous grants to non-profits to promote computer science education.
Individuals: Private citizens have always played a role in advancing our society, and can make a difference here, too. Here are some ideas:
Anyone can lobby for K-12 computer science education: Petition your local school and/or your state officials. Join the PTA. Run for school board. Speak out. Find sample letters here; find out what your state is doing here.
Got tech skills to share?: There are opportunities to teach kids and/or help a teacher through code.org, partner with an educator to team-teach computer science through Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS), volunteer at, or start, a CoderDojo club for kids, volunteer 90 minutes/week for 10 weeks through Citizen Schools, and many others.
Parents and teachers: Lots of organizations are ready to help you help kids develop STEM skills, dreams and careers, like the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) list of Best STEM Books K-12, free activities from Hour of Code, MIT’s Scratch and others, and resources like the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME) and those listed on She’s Coding.
Together, we can move our country forward and develop a skilled workforce that will ensure prosperity for every sector of the US economy and for all Americans.
This story also appears on SAP Innovation Spotlight.