Preparing For The Future Means Understanding It — But Is The Future Workforce In The Know?

I’m not a software developer, a data analytics professional or a computer programmer. In fact, I’m not a “tech worker” at all. Nevertheless, my job requires a level of facility with digital technologies that I could not have imagined just a few years ago, and certainly not when I began my career with a desktop — no cell phone or wearables in sight. I’m not alone. The use of digital tools in the workplace has increased in 90 percent of all jobs in the U.S. economy over the last decade and a half, including both higher and lower-skilled level occupations. Experts believe that digitalization will only continue to rapidly impact jobs across industries and occupations. The number of jobs in technology fields has increased dramatically, too, and many of these, a half million in computing alone, are currently open. That’s an unprecedented number of jobs with a shortage of skilled job seekers to do them.

While it’s critical to prepare a workforce for “tech-creating jobs,” it’s equally as important to train people for “tech-using” professions, which cut across every single sector that now leverages data analytics and other advanced digital tools to problem-solve. Yet a study we published recently at PwC with the Business-Higher Education Forum, “Technology in U.S. schools: Are we preparing our kids for the jobs of tomorrow?” finds the majority of K-12 educators do not feel confident teaching higher-level technology skills. It also shows that students spend very little time in school actively practicing the relevant skills needed for job readiness. Many schools do not offer any technology-related or data analytics courses, and a quarter of high schools surveyed do not even teach computer fundamentals.

These findings are extremely concerning by any measure. They are especially alarming when we consider the opportunity we’re missing to encourage students, particularly young people in underserved communities, to pursue careers in fields that pay well, have significant growth potential and can help promote economic mobility. Salaries in high-digital level occupations are three or four times the wages of medium-digital level jobs and as much as five or six times the annual earnings of workers in low-digital level jobs. Finally, while technology has the capacity to bring us together, making it easier to connect, interact and communicate, the digital revolution has the capacity to further divide us, as well, widening the opportunity — and, consequently, the wealth — gap. Teachers in underserved communities, for example, are significantly more likely to say that their students lack access to technology (computers, mobile devices) at home than teachers in affluent schools. By this measure, it’s essential that we especially advocate for underserved and underrepresented groups in the digital economy. But we’ll need improvements in digital education and training, and greater access to digital technologies in schools to do so. 

What’s promising is that educators told us they want more professional development for teaching technology-related subjects. To support their efforts, at PwC we’re going to provide K-12 teachers across the country with our Digital Fitness app, which will be tailored for the educator’s specific interests and needs from a classroom perspective. The app will offer user-friendly learning modules to help teachers assess their “fitness” level, gain a level of comfort with a range of technologies and apply what they learn in the classroom. Perhaps one of the things I appreciate most about our Digital Fitness app — I’ve been using it myself since it was first introduced at the firm last year — is that it gives me more confidence to engage with new technologies and broach conversations with clients and partners on topics like data analysis, for instance. This helps me become a smarter problem solver. 

The Digital Fitness app initiative for teachers is a natural extension of our work with schools over the last eight years, beginning with our commitment to financial literacy and continuing to our current $320 million commitment to financial and STEM education. Our firm’s college loan repayment assistance benefit is part of this overall effort, too, a critical piece of the puzzle since the national student debt crisis (recent reports indicate that the amount of debt overall has soared to $1.5 trillion) is inextricably linked to financial literacy, career readiness and, ultimately, to workforce preparedness. While many high-and-mid-level digital skill jobs require advanced training, some college or a bachelor’s degree, students who take out loans to pursue higher education in tech fields may be prepared to succeed in precisely the types of jobs that will enable them to manage this debt, rather than to be consumed by it.

Just as teachers tell us they’re eager to have professional development in technology-related subjects, kids tell us they’re interested in tech, too. When asked to name the subjects they like best, computer science is high on the list. Let’s not miss this exceptional opportunity to connect the desire to learn about technology — on the part of students and their teachers — and the undeniable need to prepare an inclusive workforce for success. 

The CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion was spearheaded by PwC U.S. Chairman Tim Ryan.

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