The technology industry needs highly skilled workers so desperately it is willing to pay for their education — at high school and even earlier.
As part of the bipartisan I-Squared Act, tech companies would pay double the current fees for additional visas and green cards with the added funds designated exclusively for science, technology, engineering and math education. The industry is willing to incur these extra costs — up to $5 billion — believing that schoolchildren educated in STEM subjects are more likely to pursue careers in technology.
Congress has heard from many sources explaining why this funding is urgent. In a Code.org video viewed 10 million times, celebrities and tech CEOs make an impassioned appeal for computer science education. NBA All-Star Chris Bosh describes taking coding classes in school. The head of an Internet company with a billion users explains that more opportunity is needed: “[We] hire as many talented engineers as we can find. The whole limit in the system is that there aren’t enough people who are trained and have these skills today.”
If tech titans cannot find enough applicants for high-wage jobs, imagine the challenge small companies face. Mobile app makers and startups are leading innovators and job creators in congressional districts across the country. They need highly skilled workers to continue to grow, but they do not have the gourmet cafeterias and luxury perks that Silicon Valley heavyweights offer. Job openings are in abundance, but Americans with computer science degrees are not.
This explains the high wages software developers command — $92,080 at the median according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate among computer-related occupations is only 3.4 percent and BLS projects the economy will add 120,000 new computing jobs annually through 2020. With soaring demand and high salaries, one might expect a spike in Americans pursuing computer science degrees. Remarkably, that is not happening.
The primary reason is the steep decline in schools teaching computer science. Only 1 in 10 high schools offers the class, and computer science accounts for just 0.6 percent of all Advanced Placement tests taken — a 60 percent drop since 2000. University students are less likely to major in a technical subject that they have not studied in high school. To fill classrooms, computer science departments admit foreign students who then are ineligible to work in the U.S. upon graduation.
When the Association for Competitive Technology’s small-business members visit their representatives in Washington, they identify this broken pipeline of STEM education as the root cause of the high-tech worker shortage. Unable to find qualified computer science graduates, one California member company has 40 unfilled positions and expects 60 more by year’s end. Another in Virginia has a dozen.
Large companies with far greater hiring challenges look to foreign students with short-term visas or green cards after exhausting their U.S. options. This meets immediate staffing needs but does not address America’s widening developer deficit. Simply put, our nation cannot maintain its global technology leadership with a foreign labor dependency. Congress must facilitate a homegrown developer workforce to ensure long-term stability and growth.
Lucrative careers in the tech industry should be more accessible to American students. This will happen only through dramatic investment in STEM education. With budgets curbed by sequester, the tech industry is prepared to meet this challenge. The I-Squared Act will expand student access to academic resources and improve career prospects while providing a short- and long-term solution to the high-skilled worker shortage. The tech industry is willing to do its part to address the nation’s STEM education needs. Congress should allow us to help by ensuring the I-Squared Act is included in any comprehensive immigration overhaul.
Morgan Reed is executive director of the Association for Competitive Technology.
Terri Henderson, 6, center, whose mother is El Salvador, attends a rally with members of Congress at Union Station's Columbus Circle to announce the Restore Opportunity, Strengthen, and Improve the Economy (ROSIE) Act on July 29, 2014. The legislation provides incentives for government contractors to pay a living wage and other benefits that would help low-income workers.