Technology is quickly shaping every part of our lives. From the grocery store to the manufacturing floor, computers and high-tech systems have made our society more efficient and effective than ever before. As a physician, I have witnessed the impact of technology on our ability to deliver quality medical care. My medical staff and I had to learn new skills and adapt to emerging online systems. As consumer demand grows, this country needs a technology-equipped workforce.
Of the 6 million open jobs across our country, 500,000 require some type of computer science background. And despite the overwhelming evidence that science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, skills are in high demand, many of our schools are not providing the education and training necessary to position students for a career in the technology sector. The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that employers will be unable to fill 2.5 million STEM-related positions this year.
These jobs’ average yearly pay is $75,000 in Kansas, and as much as $85,000 nationwide, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It is critical that our students develop the skill sets necessary in the classroom to fill them. The divide between our skilled labor pool and the needs of our nation’s leading technological firms is growing every day, and it affects the economy here in Kansas and across the country. This hit close to home for Garmin, headquartered in Olathe, which relies on computer-based skills to continue its work in the technology sector.
“Garmin’s long-term success depends on our ability to continually innovate and create new and exciting products for our customers,” said Ted Gartner, Garmin Director of Corporate Communications. “To do this, we need a steady supply of very talented engineers and information technology professionals, particularly at our expanding Olathe campus. Our best source of talent is right here in our backyard. We believe it is imperative that Kansas schools offer computer science to their K-12 students so that more of them will be interested in pursuing careers in engineering and information technology. The longterm success of Garmin and other technology companies, big and small, in the State of Kansas and the Kansas City region depends on it.”
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According to the nonprofit Code.org, a leading advocate for computer science curriculum in schools, Kansas has more than 2,500 open computing jobs — two times the average state demand. This means that Kansans are leaving more than $187.5 million in income and economic impact on the table. This is troubling to me, I want to see more Kansans succeed in this competitive technology-based workforce.
The first step in preparing our children for professional success is educating them. We must place more focus on computer science education at a young age. Currently, less than half of all K-12 schools throughout the U.S. offer computer science or programming classes. Women, minorities and students from rural communities have the lowest STEM literacy. It is estimated that 39 percent of rural Americans do not have access to high-speed broadband internet service.
This week, President Donald Trump took action to ensure that our rural communities are no longer left behind by encouraging broadband deployment in rural communities. This new executive order will help Kansans’ STEM literacy and give our educators the proper tools to expand technology-based learning.
I am a member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, where we continue to focus a lot of our time addressing through hearings and roundtables the importance of STEM careers and how we can help meet current and future workforce needs. Last November, four STEM-related bills passed out of our committee. One explicitly focused on veteran outreach, instructing the National Science Foundation to develop an outreach plan to connect our veterans with jobs and educational opportunities in STEM-related fields. Of these four bills, three passed the U.S. House of Representatives the following month.
It is essential that we address this issue on a state and national level. Our nation must pave a path to success and remain committed to meeting the needs of our growing technical workforce in order to stay globally competitive.
Republican Roger Marshall represents Kansas’ 1st District in the U.S. House.