The race to the White House is in full swing. Donald Trump is building walls and candidates from both parties are talking about the hollowed out middle class as good jobs head overseas. Much has been made of the impact of trade and visa policies on the American worker. However, common sense dictates that adjusting these policies won’t solve much if the American workforce isn’t adequately trained to actually do them.
The outsourcing of jobs has been a political football in America for years. The root of this issue lies in the changing American economy and the failure of our educational system to adapt with the times.
Today, virtually all jobs require some computer knowledge. A washing machine repairman recently visited my house. He logged into the wifi and looked up the part he needed and skyped with another tech about the problem, took electronic payment, scheduled a follow up and got the GPS coordinates of his next stop.
In order to thrive in today’s economy, workers in even what might previously been considered low skill positions must have technological proficience. Despite this the K-12 schools haven’t prioritized computer science education. Only 29 states count computer science classes towards high school graduation credits. Only one in four US schools offer any form of computer science education.
The fact that a huge swath of America doesn’t have or aren’t getting these skills negatively impacts the economy, the jobless rate and increases pressure on companies to go elsewhere to find the talent they need to compete.
This is a problem in all industries, but it is particularly acute in the tech industry and the impact can be seen dramatically in smaller states. In Arkansas, there are about 2000 unfilled computer science jobs. That’s fully 10% of all computer science jobs unfilled. Yet the state graduated less than 300 students trained in computer science last year. In neighboring Oklahoma there are nearly 2500 open computing jobs an amount equal to almost 10% of the entire computer science workforce there. The state didn’t close the gap much with 411 computer science graduates last year. In Missouri where computer science doesn’t count as a math or science credit in K-12, there are almost 9,000 open jobs and the state graduated less than 900 students trained in the subject.
Does anyone see this as a problem?
Some of these states’ leaders have begun to focus on remedial steps. But their federal delegations have been relatively silent on the issue.
These states boast some powerful leaders in Congress. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) is a subcommittee Chair on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Congressman Tom Cole (R-OK) is the House Deputy Whip and is the Chairman of a House Appropriations subcommittee. Missouri has the powerful duo of Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO). Blunt chairs the Senate's companion committee to Mr. Cole and Mrs. McCaskill serves on the Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees.
It is important that these leaders and their colleagues in Congress come to terms with the national consequences of a workforce unable to keep up with the modern economy. Entire companies have left America to gain access to talent. The exodus of jobs and the trend of outsourcing along with their associated economic consequences will only continue if Americans aren’t capable of doing the jobs here at home.
But it isn’t just the economy they should worry about. National security is one of the biggest reasons we need our own computer expertise. Hackers and nations out to do us harm are many times more likely to attack us through the cyber world than to show up on a battlefield ready to go toe-to-toe with our troops. Computers run our electric grid, our healthcare system and our transportation systems—all of which have seen attempts on them in the recent past. If we aren’t training workers here at home we’ll increasingly be relying on foreign workers to keep us safe.
The reality is that as a nation, we can’t keep training our workforce for yesterday’s economy. Our system must change beginning at the K-12 level. Studies indicate exposure to computer science at an early age increases the numbers of students who pursue a career in the field. For the many others who don’t, they will be better equipped to contribute to our national economic strength and compete in the future economy. The time has come to address this growing crisis.