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Computer and mathematical occupations are expected to see fast employment growth “as strong demand is expected for IT security and software development, in part due to increased prevalence of telework spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to a recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Meanwhile, the landmark $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill includes $65 billion to expand broadband access, especially to bridge the digital divide in America and reach people and places too long left behind.
U.S. businesses can leverage this national investment in digital access to build the 21st-century digital-savvy workforce we urgently need by investing in today’s youth, including those who live in often overlooked and underrepresented areas.
We need to support the tech education and digital skills training that students require—and America needs from them—so they can succeed and serve as our future tech workforce leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs.
There’s a glaring gap in accessibility and application of tech education resources between lower-income and affluent students—a gap that was widened by the pandemic. And we know this gap is more than an academic or social justice issue.
It’s a business challenge.
As a corporate social responsibility leader for a tech company with a long-standing commitment to digital inclusion in Title I schools, I see three investment opportunities for businesses to build the digital workforce we need:
Tech-rich curricula and programs
According to a recent article by the U.S. Department of Education, technology in school can provide multiple benefits including helping to expand course offerings, experiences, and learning materials. It also makes learning possible around the clock, builds 21st-century skills, and increases student engagement.
STEM jobs outearn their non-STEM counterparts 12% to 30% across all education levels, but too many deserving students from lower-income, minority, and rural communities do not have the level of tech education—or are aware of these career pathways—as their more affluent peers.
At Verizon, we’ve taken a hands-on approach. Through our national tech education program, we’re committed to providing Title I middle and high schools in urban and rural communities with access to 5G broadband cellular technology and digital-skill building. We are working to provide digital skills training to 10 million youth by 2030.
Providing extensive teacher training, support, and an immersive curriculum available for free improved student math scores on standardized tests at rates three times as high as those of their peers. An overwhelming majority of teachers (84%) say the program has enhanced student engagement.
The business return on investment in digital education is clear. We must sponsor school programs and provide tech-infused learning spaces, equipment, scholarships, and mentorships. Companies can also promote their tech employee volunteerism in schools, fund school-based tech competitions, offer internships and apprenticeships to high school students and graduates, and even offer jobs right out of school.
Supporting our teachers
In meetings with education, business, and political leaders in communities across the U.S., I heard time and time again that simply bringing modern broadband internet access to schools and teachers isn’t enough.
A study earlier this year found that only 66% of teachers felt confident using educational technologies, and 13% had never used digital media services in the classroom before the shift to remote learning.
This is another opportunity for businesses to step in and support an equitable and supportive ecosystem of tech tools, training, and other resources for teachers across all zip codes that enables them to seamlessly integrate tech education into their learning environments.
Advocacy and support
The pandemic underscored that K–12 schools are the hub of our communities.
Stories during this challenging time about how local businesses offered free Wi-Fi so students could attend remote classes or do homework demonstrated that business owners recognize their stake in the success of their community’s schools, teachers, and students.
On the national level, the Business Roundtable’s education and workforce committee calls for bolstering K–12 academic standards, raising student performance, and advocating for federal measures that improve educational outcomes and help close the skills gap.
Tech-ed networks of companies, teachers, and students are pushing for computer science programs in schools. We all need to understand and apply digital technology.
America’s business leaders have more than a duty to our country and economy, but a vested interest in putting the power of digital technology into everyone’s hands. That starts with our kids and our schools.
Rose Stuckey Kirk is Verizon’s SVP and chief corporate social responsibility officer.
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This story was originally featured on Fortune.com