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This CEO says every kid needs to study coding

Rick Newman
·Senior Columnist

Kids growing up today are known as “digital natives.” But that doesn’t make them tech experts – or guarantee they’ll have the skills to soar in the digital economy.

Just about everybody knows that someone with a “STEM” background – experience in science, technology, engineering or math – is likely to find rich opportunities and a rewarding career. But the United States as a nation doesn’t do a lot to help with that. “We’re one of the only countries in the world that doesn’t talk about a digital agenda,” Julie Sweet, CEO of Accenture North America, says in the video above. “Our schools are not doing what they need to do.”

Accenture, the large consulting firm, has partnered with Code.org, the nonprofit that promotes better computer science education, especially among women and minorities. But that leaves many individuals out of the technology loop. When asked if every student today ought to study coding, Sweet says, “Absolutely. Not because they all need to be computer scientists, but because coding is a basic skill required to be digitally fluent.”

There’s a big gap, however, between the skills companies want and the skills schools teach. Sweet cites research showing 92% of jobs today require some degree of digital fluency. Yet coding is not taught at all in many high schools, and those that do teach it often offer just one course. Virtually all of the young workers Accenture hires are digitally aware, Sweet says, “but not all are digitally savvy.”

Still, Accenture seems happy with young workers it’s hiring – lots of them. During the last year, the company hired roughly 90,000 milliennials – those between 22 and 35. Contrary to the stereotype of millennials as lazy, entitled and narcissistic, Sweet says “a lot of the values of millennials are shared by all of our generation. Who doesn’t want purpose, feedback and balance?”

There’s one key difference, however, between millennials and older workers: Millennials don’t want to work for big companies. Recent surveys by Accenture show that only 14% of millennials want to work for a large employer. “Some of it is perception,” says Sweet. “Are large companies going to have interesting work, and be agile enough? Also, large companies are not getting a great rap right now.”

That’s mostly because presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have been bashing banks, Wall Street firms and other parts of corporate America for leaving workers behind as they rake in billions. Offering more good jobs to more deserving people might change that perception. Workers can do their part by making themselves an easy hire.

Rick Newman’s latest book is Liberty for All: A Manifesto for Reclaiming Financial and Political Freedom. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.