If you are a student today, you face a future workforce unlike that of any past generation. Learning a specific skill or trade or profession will simply not be enough in an economy where jobs will be redefined or replaced by technology at a fast pace. This could be a bit scary… unless you believe that tomorrow’s opportunities, though different, are tremendously exciting. In fact, they are without limit for those who are “future-ready.”
What does it mean to be future-ready? For one, it means understanding the technological advancements that are already taking place, such as cloud computing, automation and artificial intelligence. These advancements are redefining our workforce and driving significant economic growth both domestically and around the world. In the United States alone, there are more than half a million unfilled computing jobs and that number is expected to be over 1.7 million jobs by the end of next year.
Being future-ready also means preparing for these types of jobs that are already in demand. It means being sure that you leave school with a strong foundational knowledge in science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) and computer science. The fact is, students who gain knowledge in these subjects are at a big advantage as they embark in our increasingly digital world.
As important as it is for all students to be future-ready, we know that many students do not have the opportunity to gain these skills. The data is clear: females, low-income students, minority students and students living in rural areas are far less likely than their peers to gain these critical skills while in school. As just one example, we know that last year, there were 24 states that had less than 10 African-American students participating in Advanced Placement Computer Science exams. And less than a third of all schools in the nation even offer this course.
A knowledge gap in STEM and computer science will leave young people ineligible for new opportunities. Instead we want to this generation to feel empowered by technology, but gaps in access to digital skills education, including computer science, threaten to widen the income gap between those who have the skills to succeed in the 21st century and those who do not.
Microsoft is deeply committed to narrowing that gap. For over five years, we have advocated on the state and federal levels for increased support for computer science education and for the passage of pro-computer science policies that expand access to these opportunities for all students. We are actively working with nonprofits, governments, educators and businesses to provide cash grants, technology and computer science resources to every young person. In the last year alone, we have grown our TEALS initiative from 225 to 349 high schools in 30 states across the United States and the District of Columbia. TEALS pairs computer science engineering volunteers with classroom teachers to team teach computer science, ultimately increasing the number of computer science course offerings for students. Additionally, we are working diligently to build the capacity of nonprofits and schools to offer more computer science courses. Over the next five years, we will commit $50 million to support the White House’s initiative and efforts to further expand computer science education for all students, including through our YouthSpark partners, TEALS and Code.org’s efforts.
The time is ripe for the new administration to prioritize STEM and computer science education across select competitive grant programs – as they have announced today – and shine a light on a vital part of education – one which drives economic growth. Programs like the Education Innovation and Research (EIR) program are essential to building the next generation of innovators. We strongly support the White House’s announcement and urge our country’s leaders to prioritize computer science education for all.