By Adarsh Mahesh

At this moment, there are more than half a million unfilled computing jobs across the United States.

Though these jobs are scattered across all 50 states and pay salaries double the national average, the tech ecosystem simply does not have enough workers with computer science skills to fill them. Our members, and tech companies across the globe, depend on a strong, skilled workforce to bring their innovations to life and to compete and succeed in today’s dynamic tech ecosystem. With just 59,000 U.S. college graduates earning a degree in computer science last year – one graduate for every eight unfilled jobs – some companies have decided to stop waiting for traditional schools and instead take the initiative to train the skilled workforce they need.

Project Hosts and Bit Source are just two of the App Association’s members turning to apprenticeships to train their local workforce for a growing number of computing jobs. Based in Conneautville, Pennsylvania, a town whose economy was once driven by steel mills, Project Hosts specializes in cloud services for healthcare and government clients. After finding themselves unable to hire the necessary workers for their growing business, they began the OnRamp Training Program, a 90-day apprenticeship program to develop a local workforce of cloud technologists. The ongoing program has enabled Project Hosts to hire their newly-trained technologists to support their company’s growth. In Kentucky, Bit Source leads an apprenticeship program to teach former coal miners coding, software development, and computer science skills. The interest in the apprenticeship program in Bit Source’s coal mining town was so high, they received hundreds of applicants for the 10 spots available in the program. Today, many of Bit Source’s staff are apprenticeship veterans from their program. These small businesses are prime examples of U.S. tech companies taking an active role in fostering the skilled workforce necessary to support their company’s growth and the future of the tech ecosystem.

If you’re thinking, “Apprenticeship programs seem like a great way to bolster our nation’s computing workforce,” you’re right. And Congress has taken notice.

In July 2017, Representatives Seth Moulton (D-MA), Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), and Mia Love (R-UT) introduced bipartisan legislation called “Championing Apprenticeships for New Careers and Employees in Technology Act” (CHANCE in TECH Act, H.R. 3173 / S. 1518) to address the growing workforce challenges in the technology sector. Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) introduced companion legislation in the Senate by. Today, we have an opportunity to push this important legislation forward.

Before we explore the merits of the CHANCE in TECH Act, we must first understand the scope of our nation’s computing workforce shortage and why apprenticeship programs offer such an important solution.

The United States has long been a leader in technology and innovation. While the American tech sector has grown by leaps and bounds, our nation’s education system hasn’t been able to meet the ballooning demand for a skilled workforce. The United States produces a fraction of the college computer science graduates needed to fill the 503,000 unfilled computing jobs nationwide. And just 40 percent of American K-12 schools, and one in five U.S. high schools, teach the computer science skills that set students up for well-paying computing jobs. But with rising education costs – U.S. student debt tops $1.48 trillion, more than the entire GDP of Canada – acquiring computer science skills for the American workforce through traditional education can be challenging and costly.

The alarming lack of skilled workers with computer science education backgrounds is amplified by the nearly 800,000 information technology workers scheduled to retire between 2017 and 2024. This shortage creates challenges for our nation’s public sector as well. As cyberwarfare becomes an increasingly prevalent threat, the federal government needs trained cybersecurity specialists to understand and mitigate the cyber risks. However, the Center for Strategic and International Studies projects there just “1,000 security specialists in the United States who have the specialized skills to operate effectively in cyberspace,” and the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education has found that more than 285,000 cybersecurity jobs in the United States remain unfilled.

These are just a few of the reasons why apprenticeships – an arrangement that includes a paid-work component and an educational or instructional component where an individual obtains workplace-relevant knowledge and skills – are increasingly necessary for our dynamic tech ecosystem. And they work. More than 91 percent of apprentices are immediately employed after completing their programs, and the average starting salary is more than $60,000. Studies suggest that in the long run, a company receives $1.47 for every dollar spent on apprenticeship programs – a positive investment that pays real dividends to the future of the computing workforce.

Thankfully, the CHANCE in TECH Act offers solutions to make it easier for companies to implement apprenticeship programs.

Rep. Seth Moulton, who introduced the bill in the House, had this to say about it:

“Our economy is changing, and we must prepare our current and future workforce for the jobs of the 21st century. This bill will allow industries, academic institutions, vocational and technical schools, and workforce development programs across the country to form partnerships and train Americans for the new economy.”

In fact, the legislation would direct the Department of Labor (DoL) to enter into competitive contracts with third-parties to promote the development of, and access to, apprenticeship programs in the tech sector. By streamlining the implementation of apprenticeship programs, the CHANCE in TECH Act would make it easier to train staff and potential employees with requisite computing, programming, and other technical skills to connect them with the employers and businesses that need them.

The bill also includes provisions to increase and improve existing education and on-the-job training programs to better meet the demands of the modern workforce. The Department of Education would bestow the “CHANCE in TECH Awards for 21st Century Schools” to schools that demonstrate high achievement in providing students the necessary skills to compete in the 21st century workforce. In addition to laying the foundation for more apprenticeship programs across the country, the bill would help build a career pathway to well-paying computing jobs as early as high school, through programs that align with local and regional employer needs.

ACT | The App Association is a vocal advocate for computer science education and apprenticeship programs to equip the American workforce with the skills to create and implement the innovations that make our lives better.

To date, the CHANCE in TECH Act has 46 co-sponsors in the House and four in the Senate. We urge all members of Congress to consider this important legislation to support the apprenticeship programs that help enable our workforce to contribute to, and succeed in, the 21st century economy.

To learn more about the CHANCE in TECH Act, please click here.