Don't Leave Talent on the Table: A Solution to the Tech Talent Gap

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Finding good developers is hard, and it’s only going to get harder.

The skilled labor supply pool can’t keep up with the growing number of computer programming jobs in America. Less than 3 percent of college graduates major in computer science, and by the year 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts there will be 1.4 million new computer science jobs with only 400,000 computer science students to fill them.

The industry is frantically searching for solutions to this shortage. One approach is enacting programs that encourage college students to shift their studies toward computer science. But this option has provided minimal success.

Instead, we should turn our attention to a much younger demographic: children from less fortunate backgrounds. According to a 2013 U.S. Census Bureau study, 21 percent of school-age children live in poverty, and for many of them, a college education and financial prosperity seem unattainable.

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According to a Google study of students from low-income households, less than half said their school offers computer science classes, and 66 percent said their school doesn’t even offer this type of instruction in a club or after-school program setting. This is definitely a missed opportunity to get more children engaged in computer science.

These are the people tech entrepreneurs need to pitch to, but don’t look at it as philanthropy -- it’s potentially the perfect solution to a real problem. Microsoft’s TEALS program is off to a great start in this area but to successfully drive sufficient and sustainable interest toward tech, we need to:

Tear down misconceptions.

Ask any kid to draw a computer scientist, and she’ll probably draw a nerdy boy with glasses wearing a pocket protector. We need to show kids that tech stereotypes aren’t real and that it’s a field anyone can excel in. Black Girls Code is one organization that’s shattering these misconceptions but more organizations and entrepreneurs need to follow its lead.

Build partnerships with youth groups.

Getting involved with youth-geared organizations shouldn’t just be about keeping kids off the streets; we should also educate them and help them succeed.

For example, my company teamed up with the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Ana. As its CEO Robert Santana wrote, “There was a time when a Boys & Girls Club could simply open its doors, babysit the community’s children, and the future for our youth remained bright. Those days are gone…academics have become our top priority.” Through our partnership, Technossus has shared advice with the kids in the program. In a few weeks, they’ll take a field trip to our office to see us at work.

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Sell the joy of the job.

We also plan to take our Boys & Girls Club group for a tour of one of our high-profile tech clients, where the average employee is 27 years old. They’re going to see people wearing skinny jeans and building some of the most advanced technology on -- and off -- the planet. This is a perfect way to motivate kids and show them that tech isn’t just for stodgy nerds.

It’s also worth mentioning the pay scale for developers and emphasizing the creativity involved in the day-to-day work. The technology world is a space where kids can take a simple idea and transform it into a wildly successful venture -- like Mark Zuckerberg or Thomas Suarez, a successful 12-year-old developer who now teaches kids how to build their own apps.

Show the many paths to success.

A traditional college degree is expensive and unattainable for many underprivileged children, so we must show them the other options.

One is attending a “hacker school,” which offers six months of hard-core coding training at a low -- or no -- cost. Some hacker schools even work with recruiting companies that place graduates into open jobs.

A good example is General Assembly, a tech education provider whose curriculum focuses on computer science skills. It even allows part-time enrollment, enabling students to have jobs while they study.

And LaunchCode, a St. Louis-based nonprofit, is one of many localized solutions that are popping up across America. In its first year, LaunchCode linked 140 graduates to jobs where they earn $50,000 a year, on average.

We all need to work toward finding a solution to the technology skills gap. It might mean involving yourself with one of the great organizations mentioned in this article, or it might mean engaging with community groups and providing them with partnership and wisdom.

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