Why Utah Needs Computer Science Classes In Every School
Utah’s tech industry is booming. We’re leading the country in technology-based economic development and our tech industry continues to grow faster than that of any other state in the nation. In order to ensure that we have the workforce to sustain this high-level growth, Utah’s business community is championing efforts to ensure all students have access to computer science classes.
Computing classes not only teach students about technology, but they also encourage children to think critically and develop problem-solving skills. These classes prepare our next generation of learners, leaders, problem solvers, and innovators to make robust contributions to our world.
It was Utah’s stable workforce, along with the capital city’s top-ranking tech universities, low cost of living, attractive climate, and family-friendly atmosphere that earned Salt Lake City the ranking of top “tech mecca” looking to overthrow Silicon Valley by Forbes Magazine. Our state is home to tech giants like Adobe, Microsoft, Overstock.com, eBay, Amazon, and Ancestry, as well as thousands of tech startups and our homegrown tech behemoths such as Qualtrics, Domo, and InsideSales, just to name a few.
But what these tech giants will tell you is that Utah’s booming tech industry will likely go bust if we don’t take steps now to ensure that we are attracting, developing, and retaining the workforce needed for the tech jobs of tomorrow.
Currently, there are nearly 5,000 unfilled tech jobs in Utah. The average salary of a computing job in Utah is almost $85,000—roughly twice that of the average salary in the state. The existing open jobs alone represent close to $420 million in economic opportunity in terms of annual salaries.
However, it’s not just the traditional tech jobs that are in need of a highly-skilled workforce; there is also a shortage in fields like advanced manufacturing, biotech, and the life sciences industry. And, if you consider the careers of the future, where nearly every job is a tech job, our workforce woes grow exponentially.
According to a study released by the Brookings Institution, the Washington-based think tank, the number of jobs in the US that require substantial digital knowledge increased rapidly between 2002 and 2016. According to the report, the use of digital tools has increased in 517 of 545 occupations, or in 90 percent of all jobs in the economy. The report underscored the growing need for workers of all types and skill levels and explained why many employers struggle to fill jobs—even those that in the past required few digital skills.
“Workers of every stripe—from corporate finance officers to salespeople to utility workers and nurses—are now spending sizable portions of their workdays using tools that require digital skills,” the Digitalization and the American Workforce report said.
The digitization of our economy requires a digitally-skilled workforce to be successful. It’s the reason why in 2018, the Salt Lake Chamber worked hard to see the passage of the $2.5 million Talent Development Incentive Loan Program which offers debt relief to local college graduates who stay in Utah and work in high-demand, high-wage jobs. And it’s the reason why the business community is now pushing for quality computer science classes for every student in our state. HB227, the Utah Computer Science Grant Act sponsored by Representative John Knotwell and Senator Ann Millner, will assist in providing grant monies to school districts that create and execute a computer science plan within their district.
Currently, only 17 percent of Utah high schools offer intermediate and advanced computer science, and last year less than 0.2 percent of high school students took an AP computer science exam. To increase participation in computer science education in Utah, we need to increase the classes offered, we also need to educate more teachers in computer science, and we need to ensure that all students have access to high-quality computer science education classes starting as early as kindergarten.
By focusing on developing a digitally-skilled workforce today, we will continue to meet the needs of our current and future knowledge-based, innovation economy and ensure our state’s broad economic growth.
Derek B. Miller is the president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber, Utah’s largest and longest-standing business organization with members in all 29 Utah counties.