Innovation is a key force behind a strong 21st century economy; and unless the United States prioritizes technology education, we will fall behind.

Last week I was honored to represent Kansas City on Capitol Hill.

Together with four other leaders from the KC Tech Council, I attended the annual CompTIA DC Fly-In Conference and met with six congressional offices from Kansas and Missouri to advocate for investments in tech education.

This post is a recap on (a) where the U.S. stands among other countries when it comes to tech education; and (b) how policy leaders should take action now to ensure that future members of our nation’s workforce are well educated and prepared for technology jobs.

Where the U.S. Stands

The U.S. is ranked 48th in the world based on the quality of math and science education in schools (World Economic Forum).

And unfortunately, almost half of employers think it will be harder in 2017 to find high quality tech employees due to more demand than talent available. More specifically, data shows that without a greater concentration on STEM subjects, the U.S. may be short as many as three million high-skilled workers by 2018.

If we are to strengthen our global competitiveness and succeed as a nation in the 21st century, we must begin to emphasize these subjects from an early age to ensure interest and manage the pipeline of talent from kindergarten through entry-level employment.

Policies That Can Help (What We Advocated for on Capitol Hill)

Elementary and secondary educational institutions must make STEM subjects the fundamental building blocks of their curriculum.

With these subjects as a foundation, children will be able learn the subjects that are quickly becoming (and in many cases, have already become) the basis of a highly-skilled economy in the U.S. Further, rather than promoting science and math toward a specific segment of the population, we should ensure that all children be exposed to these critical subjects. Additionally, policymakers should place an emphasis on educational programs that promote more on-the-job-experience including apprenticeships.

To help close the skills gap, the U.S. should explore innovative education opportunities:

  • Job Training and Placement Programs: These programs help unemployed and under-employed individuals gain their first jobs in the tech field. Jobs in the tech field have above average wages and lead to long-term careers.
  • Work-Based Learning: Policies that allow students to contextualize classroom learning by gaining work experience and simultaneously earning credits toward a degree (both for high school and post-secondary degrees). Apprenticeships, for example, give people the knowledge and skills needed for successful careers and connect people and industry to on-the-job experience opportunities.
  • Career and Technical Education (CTE) and Certification Programs: To achieve a skilled workforce, we should go beyond solely relying on traditional baccalaureate and postgraduate degrees. These play a critical role in our ecosystem, but community colleges and other post-secondary institutions, along with industry-recognized credentials, are also instrumental partners and tools that should be utilized.

To accomplish these goals, Congress should consider drafting and enacting the CHANCE in TECH Act (Championing Apprenticeships for New Careers and Employees in Technology Act). Such an act could be used to promote education policies and programs that incorporate the policies and programs described above to make the U.S. competitive in the 21st century.

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Capitol Image: Chris Brown
Hall Image: Kate Garman

*This article is very general in nature and does not constitute legal advice.