In late September, the White House announced President Trump had signed a presidential memorandum to increase access to high-quality science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education with US$200 million to be directed to this priority area.
Politically this is an important move for the Trump administration. With the administration's immigration policies frustrating tech leaders, not much has been done to address the enduring skills shortages faced by the tech powerhouses of the economy despite presidential promises to “fix that”. Apple, Facebook and Microsoft have all issued statements on various immigration policies. Key to this is the severe shortage of skilled tech talent, with around 500,000 unfilled computing jobs in the United States and less than 50,000 computer science students graduating last year.
This initiative has been led by Ivanka Trump, one of a number of items she has managed to get action on in her role leading White House efforts on workforce development. Following this, Ivanka joined an Internet Association event in Detroit announcing complementary private sector funding of more than US$300 million. Joining a panel of tech leaders, Ivanka made it clear computer science and coding are priorities for the Trump administration as a focus on job creation and the economy.
In a statement from the Internet Association, the importance of public and private sector co-operation on computer science education was emphasised. Funding contribution is committed from Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Salesforce, Lockheed Martin, Accenture, General Motors, Pluralsight, and a number of private individuals and foundations. Quicken Loans, Intuit and Internet Association are also providing a significant contribution. Strong student interest in computer science training is evident in the success of Code.org, a not-for profit organisation that delivers coding tools, teacher training and the global ‘Hour of Code’ introduction to computer science, designed to show anybody can learn the basics of coding, with 100 million+ participants in more than 180 countries. However, less than half the public schools in the United States are teaching computer science skills and some US schools reportedly don’t have computers available for students.
In contrast, Australia has had significant investment in technology in schools with the ‘Digital Education Revolution’ providing technology in classrooms and a national digital technologies curriculum which aims to develop skills to ensure students design, create, manage and evaluate digital solutions, transform data and use computational and systems thinking. This means all Australian students from Year 3 onwards are learning to write code.
Given the lack of K-12 computer science teaching in US schools to date, public private funding of education by tech giants is a smart move, as far as the companies are concerned, from a talent pipeline perspective. However, in focusing on K-12, such programs are only dealing with future skills supply. Organisations are already experiencing a mismatch between skills and employees whereby in the same company jobs cannot be filled because people with the right skills can’t be found and people with skills no longer needed by the company are being made redundant. This is not an isolated problem – Dan Gilbert, Chairman of Quicken Loans, with a head office in Detroit, clearly stated this during the Internet Association event. Recently Dave Curran (CIO of Westpac) also highlighted this issue. The rate of change being experienced by organisations is exceeding the capacity of the change management projects to deal with the flow on effects.
Beyond the school years, there is an emerging skills issue that both Australia and the United States needs to face. The Business Council of Australia has recently raised the issue and proposed a lifelong learning approach that amongst other things includes a shared governance model for government and industry and a renewed focus on Vocational Education and Training. With predictions of up to half of existing jobs disappearing and fundamental change in the nature of work, expect this issue to remain at the forefront for US and Australian governments and industry.