Opinion

To Fill U.S. Tech Jobs, We Must Experiment

The Trump administration’s executive order making it easier for companies to offer apprenticeships is a welcome step toward ensuring that we have enough American workers to fill millions of tech jobs.

By 2024, there will be 1.8 million unfilled tech jobs, according to CompTIA, a leading voice for the tech industry and its workers. Given technology’s importance to the economy, ensuring that we can fill those jobs should be a national priority.

That will require a nationwide focus on technology skills, and what the administration is proposing will help. President Donald Trump highlighted the role that apprenticeships can play in technology with a recent visit to the Waukesha Technical College in Wisconsin.

Tech jobs are a pathway for solid, middle class jobs for millions of Americans at all skill levels, and we must invest and focus on creating the technology workforce that will lead the U.S. economy.

However, to do so, we must find a balance between private sector efforts and government programs. Alone, neither can get the job done. For example, we need to make technology-related skills more important in high schools, community colleges and four-year colleges. And we need greater private sector investment in training and certification programs.

Apprenticeships are a good start. They offer the opportunity to experiment and find new and better ways to deliver meaningful work-based learning opportunities. But we know successful apprenticeship models require a significant public-private partnership. That will require collaboration by the administration, which has proposed increasing funding for apprenticeship programs, and the private sector, which plays an important role by identifying the technology skills needed, both for today’s jobs and those of the future.

Why does CompTIA care about apprenticeships? Because our focus is on ensuring that we have a well-trained technology workforce. Since our inception, we have facilitated more than 2 million certifications for technology workers. Apprenticeships are a critical starting point toward an IT career.

The administration is taking an important step in making apprenticeship programs work better by lifting onerous government oversight that has hindered the widespread adoption of apprenticeships. But that doesn’t mean government should be hands off: There are many programs that help businesses to identify and train candidates for apprenticeships that meet rigorous standards. The tech sector should work with federal and state authorities to find ways to distinguish these programs so that employers, students and workers are afforded the best opportunity to succeed.

We shouldn’t be shy about holding government programs accountable, ensuring that they are fulfilling their purpose and are being executed in a cost-effective manner.

Congress can play a role here, too, by moving on a proposal we have put forward that we call the Championing New Careers and Employees in Technology (CHANCE in TECH) Act. The proposal expands on work already being done by industry and intermediaries focused on employer hiring needs, assessing potential workforce, training them and mitigating some costs to the employer by allowing them to pay reasonable salaries to their apprentices while they acquire the skills today’s economy demands. We hope to work with Congress to introduce and pass this legislation.

The bottom line is we need to make developing the technology skills of Americans a priority. We know that almost every company now utilizes technology in some facet, so we need a workforce that can meet those challenges. It is simply in America’s national economic security.

While Trump meets with technology and business leaders to discuss how to promote apprenticeships, we hope it spurs a broader national conversation about the nature of education and work. It is too important to our future not to have such a conversation.

 

Elizabeth Hyman is executive vice president of public advocacy at CompTIA, an association serving as the voice of the world’s information technology industry.

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