STEM Beats - jobs & workforce

Is CS for All Really a Sinister Plot Against Tech Workers?

September 26, 2017

If we are to believe Ben Tarnoff of The Guardian, he has uncovered a nefarious plot. The broad national effort to bring computer science classes to every American high school is, per Tarnoff, a cynical ploy to depress wages in the tech sector. Can Tarnoff be right? Can equity really be so unjust?

Let’s consider the alternative. If we keep rationing skills and opportunity by sticking with the status quo, the benefits of our innovation economy will continue to bypass millions of Americans. That would be sinister, indeed.

Tarnoff’s case rests on the faulty conviction that coding jobs are scarce. “Teaching millions of kids to code won’t make them all middle-class,” he claims. “Rather, it will proletarianize the profession by flooding the market and forcing wages down – and that’s precisely the point.”

To support his argument, Tarnoff turns to a four-year-old study claiming that the United States produces too many computer scientists as it is. That study was roundly discredited soon after it was released, and computing jobs have only gained steam since then.

Tech wages are rising, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that jobs in computing will grow by 12.5 percent between 2014 and 2024 (almost twice as fast as all jobs), and unemployment in computer occupations stands at a vanishingly small 2.4 percent

If anything, these figures probably minimize the demand for computer science skills. Our research has found that the BLS typically counts only half of the Americans who use complex computing skills in their work. Why? Traditional job titles have not kept up with the tech revolution.

Some 3.8 million Americans in careers we don’t normally associate with technology write computer code, develop software, or maintain computer networks on the job. For example, many ad agency jobs now require computer science degrees.

Computing across the economy

These jobs are out of reach for millions of poor and minority youth whose schools do not even offer computer science courses. Computer Science for All aims to upend that status quo. 

To Tarnoff’s credit, he implicitly backs away from his own argument near the end of his article. After impugning initiatives like code.org for their base motives, he writes:

Everyone should have the opportunity to learn how to code. Coding can be a rewarding, even pleasurable, experience, and it’s useful for performing all sorts of tasks. More broadly, an understanding of how code works is critical for basic digital literacy – something that is swiftly becoming a requirement for informed citizenship in an increasingly technologized world.

Amen! So why, then, should we deplore the effort to bring computer science into all high schools?

It’s preposterous to think that educators, tech companies, state leaders, President Obama, and now the Trump Administration have all signed on to a conspiracy to cheat America’s tech workforce. But let’s pretend for a moment that they have.

If so, Jorge Luis Borges’s famous dictum on art should give us comfort: “Nothing is more secondary than the author’s intentions.” If the road to a better future is paved with bad intentions, then so be it.

Tags: computer science, jobs & workforce

The High Stakes of Diversity for Washington State

May 18, 2017

Washington State may have a bright future if it maintains its dominance in the tech sector, but that could be a tall order. Lack of diversity in the STEM workforce could be the state’s Achilles heel, and that challenge has its roots in K-12.

It should surprise no one that STEM jobs pay in a state with companies like Microsoft and Boeing call home. STEM jobs in Washington State may well grow 15 percent in the coming decade, and the state’s STEM wage premium is enormous:

Washington State STEM Earnings

Unfortunately, people of color are least likely to reap these rewards. Notice for example, who earns degrees and certificates in computing or engineering:

WAshington State diversity of computing credentials

WAshington state diversity of engineering credentials

The green line in each chart represents minorities as a percentage of the college-aged population. The blue line represents the percentage of degrees and certificates that went to minorities. The wider the space between the two lines, the less well represented minorities are.

If you squint, you might seem some improvement in the last half-decade or so, but the gaps remain enormous. Black, Latino, and American Indian Washingtonians at state colleges and universities are still much less likely than their white or Asian peers to receive credentials in STEM.

The problem starts early, and it might get worse. For example, science scores for white eighth-graders in the state have climbed steadily since 2009, while those of black and Latino students have languished:

WAshington State science scores

Math scores follow similar trends, and black students fare the worst.

One possible reason: Underrepresented students of color seem to have less access to STEM learning opportunities. Teachers of African American students are less likely to say they have the resources they need to teach science:

Washington State resources to teach science

Access to lab equipment and supplies is also very uneven, and again students of color get the short end of the stick:

Washington State lab supplies

Even those students of color who have the potential to succeed on Advanced Placement tests in STEM often don’t take them:

Washington State Students who could thrive in AP don't take tests

Many may attend schools that don’t offer AP classes or their equivalents.

These disadvantages can add up over time and exacerbate the gaps. In Washington State, Blacks and Hispanics hold only seven percent of computing jobs and five percent of engineering jobs, even though they make up 15 percent of the state’s working-age population. For a state that will need all the STEM talent it can get, such inequities can be devastating.

Fortunately, STEM advocates in organizations like WashingtonSTEM have worked with state leaders to put STEM education at the forefront. The state has embraced robust new science standards. It aims to increase students’ access to computer science education. It is bringing STEM into early childhood education. It will take time for policies like these to affect the workforce, but they are a vital down-payment on the state’s prosperitys.  

To learn more about STEM in Washington State, check out our STEM Vital Signs page, or download our data presentation on the state.

Tags: computer science, engineering, diversity, jobs & workforce

Business/Education Partnerships Can Thrive in California

April 5, 2017

Companies are often wary of collaborating with school districts, because they worry that education bureaucracies will hamstring their efforts. Fortunately, big changes have been afoot in the nation's largest state for some time now. California is urging its school districts to forge stronger partnerships with school districts, and the state is even putting its money where its mouth is.

Businesses have more opportnities to join school district leaders at the planning table, and the state continues to put serious money behind efforts to promote school-based learning. for more information, check out our new guide to help California companies take advantage of these incentives.   

New Opportunities to work with schools

Tags: Career Technical Education, jobs & workforce

Technical school can offer big rewards--if you have a strong academic foundation

February 9, 2017

For a good summary of why high schoolers shouldn't pin all their college aspirations on just four-year degrees, head over toThe New York Times. Author Jeffrey Selingo mounts a strong defense of technical degrees, certifications, and apprenticeships.

Here's the money quote (quite literally):

[Georgetown University] research has found that 40 percent of middle-skills jobs pay more than $55,000 a year; some 14 percent pay more than $80,000 (by comparison, the median salary for young adults with a bachelor’s degree is $50,000).

There is a catch, however. Students who struggle academically in K-12 will face an uphill battle in technical school, and they are much less likely to land these rewarding jobs. Selingo's piece opens with a shocking anecdote:

When the German engineering company Siemens Energy opened a gas turbine production plant in Charlotte, N.C., some 10,000 people showed up at a job fair for 800 positions. But fewer than 15 percent of the applicants were able to pass a reading, writing and math screening test geared toward a ninth-grade education.

That amounts to thousands of people who are hungry to work but lack the skills to get available jobs. As we consider how to reinvigorate communities ravaged by the loss of traditional manufacturing work, education has to be a big part of the answer.

Fortunately, some companies, like Siemens, John Deere, and Dow are tackling the challenge head on by collaborating with community colleges to create education and training programs that lead to good jobs. Check out Selingo's account to learn more.

Tags: jobs & workforce

High School STEM Literacy: Necessary, Yet Insufficient

December 19, 2016

This past election season invoked talk of putting people back to work—particularly in the manufacturing sector.  To help frame the scope of the problem, a study from the Brookings Institute claims that factories eliminated 6.7 million people’s positions with some industries completely dying out from 1980 to 2014. At first glance, that looks bad for manufacturing. However, this same study found that American factories made twice as much in that same 30-year period with production today at an all-time high. So, if production is up but employment is down, where is the disparity?

“The popular notion is that the jobs were shipped to low-wage countries like Mexico or China. The reality is that in recent years, 88 percent of job loss in manufacturing is due to gains in productivity, such as increased use of robots,” asserts Dr. Anthony Carnevale in an op-ed for the Hechinger Report. The data Carnevale cites has serious educational implications; workers with a high school diploma or less took the brunt of the productivity-based employment losses.

That popular notion used to be closer to the truth. According to The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), historically manufacturing competitiveness relied heavily on low-cost labor sources. This gave the advantage to low-wage countries. However, new BCG studies of the last ten years in manufacturing report that many countries, including the U.S., offset higher wage costs with increases in productivity. And countries that did not focus on production lost some ground—shifting the manufacturing advantage in favor of these high output economies. This shift implicates a growing trend in manufacturing robots since technological advances in automation allow today’s factories to do much more with much less.

“Robots can complete many manufacturing tasks more efficiently, effectively, and consistently than human workers, leading to higher output with the same number of workers, better quality, and less waste,” states the report from BCG.

As the use of manufacturing robots becomes more commonplace, the types of manufacturing jobs available to employees will require more skill. The National Association of Manufacturers forecasts an additional 3 ½ million manufacturing jobs over the next 10 years. But 2 million of those positions will go unfilled unless we produce a workforce with the post-secondary skills needed.

The trends in manufacturing employment highlight the nationwide employment issues for those with just a high school diploma or less. Economically, the environment has changed for low-skill jobs and won’t likely change back—positioning post-secondary as more of a requirement and less of an option for anyone seeking to make a living wage. To those rallying for stronger K-12 education, and for STEM particularly, there is no better time than the present if they want to change this future!

Tags: jobs & workforce

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