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STEM education and broadband access are key to software job growth

Your first instinct for where to go for a software job just might be wrong. Consider this: The states where software jobs grew fastest in the past two years are Kansas, Indiana, Mississippi, Idaho and Louisiana. Let that sink in. None of those states are on the coasts. They're scattered across the middle of America.

That fact, and other key findings from a report released today by Software.org: the BSA Foundation, might surprise you. Others, such as software's tremendous benefits to the overall U.S. economy, should not. On the national level, software contributes $1.14 trillion to U.S. GDP and supports more than 10 million jobs. Software directly created 2.9 million jobs in 2016 - good-paying jobs covering everything from the obvious ones, like software developers and web designers, to the less obvious, like project coordinators, administrative assistants, and accountants.

On the local level, software is a catalyst for growth as well. In the past two years, the number of software jobs increased in every state, as did the industry's economic impact. In 35 states, direct value-added GDP from the software industry grew more than 20 percent since 2014 - with Idaho and North Carolina up more than 40 percent.

With this in mind, we must change how we think about the software workforce. Software jobs are not limited to Silicon Valley or even to the largest cities in America. The workforce is growing all across the country. We should continue to encourage this widespread growth so that anyone who is interested can benefit from a software job. How? By increasing STEM education and ensuring widespread broadband access.

STEM education (short for science, technology, engineering, and math) is more important than ever. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts there will be 1.4 million computing jobs available in 2020 and only 400,000 graduates with the skills to fill them. Schools need to increase their focus on STEM classes, especially computer science, to equip students with necessary skills before entering the workforce. Only 40 percent of U.S. schools offer computer science, when it should be just as important as biology or algebra.

Mid-career professionals also benefit from STEM education in the form of retraining programs. It's never too late to join the software industry - U.S. software companies offer hundreds of different programs to give artists, fast food workers, mothers returning to work, veterans and everyone in between the opportunity to learn the skills for software jobs. National, state and local governments need to continue to support these programs through funding and legislation.

Broadband access is the second major component for growing software jobs nationwide. Today, 34 million Americans lack broadband internet access, mostly in rural areas. For software jobs to flourish evenly across the country, workers need adequate access to communicate and work collaboratively, especially since many software companies are global in nature and many employees work remotely. This puts rural areas at a stark disadvantage.

STEM education and broadband access are often seen as separate issues. It's time we consider them together as the key ingredients for software job growth. We know this works: Areas with strong support for education and high-speed access dominate the list of technology hubs. We need to replicate these opportunities across America. Software.org's report shows software is a powerful job creator that drives growth in all 50 states. Let's keep the momentum going by getting people the skills and access they need.

Chris Hopfensperger is the Executive Director of Software.org: the BSA Foundation.

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