Economy & Budget

How can Trump keep his promise on jobs? Prepare us for the digital age


The structure of the American job market has changed dramatically since the heyday of manufacturing. If President-elect Donald Trump wants to live up to his promise of bolstering American jobs, he needs to broaden his focus to include building a workforce that can tackle the jobs of the future, particularly those in computer science.

Computer science underpins almost every industry, forming the backbone of the American communications system that is integral to day-to-day interactions. With computer science education currently overlooked in most state school systems, the incoming administration can constructively impact the workers of the future by preparing a labor force that is well-versed in computer science and well-equipped to extend American leadership in innovation and resilience.

The most disruptive force in the American economy over the last 30 years has been the emergence of computing technologies and the dawn of the digital age. This disruption has caused American productivity to skyrocket, but has also made many jobs obsolete, particularly in manufacturing.

In 1980 it took about 25 jobs to produce $1 million in U.S. manufacturing output; today, it takes only five. During his campaign, Trump appealed to these displaced workers. Now they and he can benefit by recognizing the job growth in computing and information technology (IT) in all sectors of the U.S. economy, including manufacturing. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates 1.4 million computing-related job openings in the U.S. by 2022.

{mosads}Computing permeates every aspect of our society, creating high demand for technological innovations that change how we think, connect, conduct research, provide for national security, build products to make America competitive and more. This demand drives the economy and creates a direct and positive impact on the job market.

While candidate Trump was silent on the urgency of filling the emergent job opportunities in computing and IT, he now has four years to make a difference.

Computing has also led to promising advancements in materials, fabrication techniques and machine design that will likely to lead to 3-D printing that can transform the manufacturing process within America’s borders — if we have the skilled workers to do so. It is estimated that within the next five years, virtually everyone will come into contact with 3-D printed products. Trump should urge training this workforce today to meet the demands of tomorrow.

Some of the fastest-growing and highest-paid positions at the moment include computer systems analysts and software developers. The burgeoning field of healthcare IT is also estimated to have almost 500,000 openings that cannot be filled because American schools are not training students to fill these positions.

As a result, companies looking for IT specialists are tapping foreign students to fill those jobs. According to a report from the National Foundation for American Policy, foreign students make up the majority of enrollments in U.S. graduate programs in many science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. America needs to build up a domestic source of labor through education initiatives and increasing emphasis on technical training as a parallel track to college education.

Greater computer science education will also bolster America’s national security. As cybersecurity issues become more pressing, increasing citizen participation in core tech fields will help solve security challenges where national security clearances are often required and guest workers on H-1B visas cannot be used.

In the wake of foreign hacking events, the U.S. government and intelligence community are keenly aware that hackers are constantly seeking to exploit weaknesses in our digital defenses and have even implemented policies to encourage computer scientists to point out these weaknesses. U.S. business secrets are also prone to hacking efforts.

In 2014, a U.S. grand jury indicted five members of China’s People’s Liberation Army on charges that they stole information from U.S. Steel and other American firms. It was the first time criminal charges had been filed against known state actors for hacking.

In short, national excellence in computer science is integral to ensuring security at home.

To get more U.S. citizens involved in this growing field, introducing computer science at a young age is paramount. By incorporating computer science instruction into the K-12 curriculum of schools across the country, children will become familiar with the language of coding and the principles of computer science, thus preparing them for careers in the field.

These children will have a job waiting for them, as it is estimated that by the year 2020, there will be an excess of 100,000 jobs in computing available beyond the number of college graduates skilled to work in the field. Incorporating computer science into school curriculums will give the next generation the tools they need to enter and expand this robust industry. 

While computing is foundational to societal advancement, our nation is struggling to attract diverse talent to the discipline. Women already employed in the technology industry are leaving their private-sector jobs at staggering rates, twice the rate of their male counterparts. Corporate America is not retaining diverse talent, and one homogeneous group creates most of the technology used by the world today, a state of affairs that, when corrected, will reveal new ideas for technology products and services.

In fact, a study by the National Center of Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) has shown that patents created by diverse teams are more likely to be cited than those created by homogenous teams. Furthermore, a study of 500 U.S. based companies found that “higher levels of diversity were associated with increased levels of sales revenue, more customers, greater market share and greater relative profits.”

Diversity in the tech sector is essential to creating the best, most appealing products.

Computer science is one of the fastest-growing industries in America, and yet computer science education does not receive the same treatment as foreign language or math and is largely absent from the national K-12 curriculum. This precludes many U.S. citizens from considering the field as a viable career path and has led to a shortage of U.S.-born workers.

By providing for the voluntary nationwide adoption of K-12 computer science curriculum, the incoming administration can ensure the employment of the next generation of American innovators. It is a potent way for President-elect Trump to deliver on his promise of greater jobs and better wages for the American people.

Paula Stern is former chairwoman of the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) and founder and chairwoman of The Stern Group Inc., which serves national and multi-national organizations on business, political, and tech policy issues that affect their competitiveness in a global economy.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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