Opinion

Next COVID Relief Package Must Invest In a Future-Ready Workforce

With the challenges of containing COVID-19 still pressing, immediate efforts to secure the safety of our citizens are paramount. However, planning for what comes next must also be prioritized. With record unemployment numbers, at no time in our history has there been such an urgent need for smart government policies and federal funding aimed at helping people who’ve lost their jobs, many of which may never return.

One way to get Americans working again is through investment in information technology training and certification programs to reskill and upskill our workforce. This will help spur our economy and meet the needs of a reshaped job market. If there is one thing that’s been made abundantly clear through this crisis, it’s how vitally important trained and qualified IT professionals are for health care professionals and first responders, educators and students, government officials and those who are the most vulnerable to keep us safe, secure and informed.

An effort is underway now in the U.S. House of Representatives that would provide just such an investment. This proposal would provide $15.1 billion in funding for our nation’s workforce development programs in the next federal relief package. In a letter sent recently to House leadership, Reps. Levin (D-Mich.) and Bonamici (D-Ore.) championed the proposal, which would directly help those disproportionately affected by diminished labor market opportunities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before COVID-19, demand for emerging tech skills and experiences was already high as employers across industries pursued digital transformation strategies. This need will only grow in the coming weeks, months and years as businesses become more reliant on technology in the aftermath of coronavirus. In fact, the U.S. core IT workforce is projected to grow at 1.6 times the national labor growth rate over the next decade, which translates to a projected need for at least 800,000 new IT workers in cybersecurity, data and computer science and software application development.

There remains a skills and confidence gap across our workforce as businesses look for professionals to handle our growing reliance on emerging technology. One in two U.S. businesses does not have a formal strategy in place to address this. That is why Congress must step up and help fill this critical need.

Through federal funding for workforce programs, individuals from all backgrounds — including veterans, minorities and underserved communities — can gain the skills required for their next job, including through virtual training and real-world, task-driven virtual apprenticeships. And based on data collected from CompTIA’s Creating IT Futures Foundation, given an opportunity, displaced workers can become job ready in as little as eight weeks. Moreover, personal economic opportunity from training and certification is unmatched. IT professionals who have certifications before starting their first job are 50 percent more likely to get a promotion within one year of first being hired than individuals never certified, and their rate of promotions is almost twice as often.

The backbone of our economy is our workforce. Investments like those proposed in the House would be instrumental in ushering in hands-on learning opportunities for students and workers while promoting a new gold standard for virtual and online learning. Lawmakers must act with urgency to pass the next economic relief package and ensure it creates effective pathways and opportunities to help displaced workers. By taking action, Congress can help to ensure our country’s revival is faster, and give thousands of workers in need the skills and training necessary to get back to work.

 

Cinnamon Rogers is executive vice president of public advocacy at CompTIA, the leading voice for the global IT industry.

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