February 21, 2019

The Great Lie – Learning to Code Isn’t Going to Save the American Workforce

Bruce Cleveland | Founding Partner at Wildcat Venture Partners
Written by:

Bruce Cleveland | Founding Partner at Wildcat Venture Partners

Over the last few years, you would have been hard pressed to have missed the hue and cry claiming digital transformation will require the preponderance of the American workforce to transform. We are told that the digital economy requires people who can code, with deep technical skills, and desire a career in a STEM-related (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) field.

Academia, politicians - at the local, state and federal level, the media, and even the tech industry have propagated and amplified this concern.

A report issued by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics in January 2015 titled, “STEM Occupations Past, Present and Future” cites “there were nearly 8.6 million STEM jobs in May 2015” and of these, “computer occupations made up nearly 45 percent of STEM employment”.

The message is easy to grasp. The US needs workers who can code!!! Articles proclaiming we can convert coal miners into coders abound.

The Rise of the Coder

In response, for profit coding academies and programs have proliferated and universities have increased course offerings to address this dire emergency. Parents, terrified their children will be left behind or left out of the workforce altogether, are pushing their future workers away from liberal arts and other “irrelevant” studies.

The Facts

Unfortunately, there are a few pesky facts that have been “excluded” or, perhaps I shall graciously say “less well covered” in this epic story.

In that same US Bureau of Labor Statistics report, it states that STEM jobs represent only6.2% of all US jobs. And, over the next decade, this percentage isn’t going to increase by much. A simple math calculation shows that, today, if 45% of all STEM jobs are computer science related, then this represents only 2.8% of all US jobs.

Out of the entire US economy, only 2.8% of all jobs are in computer science fields. Wow – based upon the clamor, you would think that 90% or more of the US economy and its global standing was dependent upon solving this national epidemic.

Another annoying fact. A report issued in January 2017 by the World Economic Forum, titled, “Realizing Human Potential in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. An Agenda for Leaders to Shape the Future of Education, Gender and Work, states, “…skills such as coding may themselves soon become redundant due to advances in machine learning.” The implication? Even if you learn how to code, a machine is eventually going to take your job away. [Note from Bruce – Not necessarily. Basic coding skills (e.g., web sites) will likely be replaced with machine learning applications. However, most complex infrastructure and applications will still require human computer scientists with deep math skills for years to come.]

Finally, statistics show that only 24% of all US high school seniors score high enough (650 or more) on the math section of the SAT to be accepted into a high quality, higher ed STEM program. So, even if there were a vast number of computer science jobs open for future US workers, very few from our talent pool - US high schools - have the innate talent, or the interest, to fulfill jobs in this area. Thus, IMO, the need for the US to issue more H1-B visas for foreign workers with these skills but, alas, that is the topic for a different post.

If you - your sons or daughters - have the aptitude and interest in math and computer science, a high paying job and great career is likely in your future. As the data shows, 75% of the future workforce graduating from high school isn’t qualified for these roles. So, you are set up well against “the competition”.

Digital Transformation & Business Science

It is true that digital transformation will require a different type of professional workforce. But, the statistics show that this workforce is not going to be dominated by coders, computer scientists, mathematicians, et al. Instead, it will be largely comprised of people with digital skills and work experience using them; people who have proven they understand how to operate and apply – not code – digital business applications.

This new professional workforce will be largely comprised of “business scientists”. People who are trained, certified, and experienced using the business application software that now powers every business function in companies and organizations of all sizes. Applications developed by companies such as Adobe, Oracle, Salesforce, SAP, and others.

These jobs aren’t posted as “business scientist” roles - yet. They have titles such as “demand gen specialist” or “sales operations manager”, etc. They all require at least a basic understanding of how to set up and apply business application software. And, if you perform a search on job sites such as Indeed.com, you will find open job requisitions for hundreds of thousands of workers – millions, actually - who possess these skills and experience.

In fact, there are now – and will continue to be – 7x the number of positions currently open for business scientists vs. computer or data scientists. These people are in high demand, paid well, will continue to be in demand for decades to come, and not easily replaced by machine learning/artificial intelligence.

And, as it turns out, many of the best business scientists come from liberal arts studies where you are taught to think critically, write, communicate and collaborate well with peers. So, parents, there is hope for that child studying Art History!

In recognition of this fact, new companies such as GreenFig (www.greenfig.com) have emerged to train and certify business scientists. So, if you – or your sons or daughters – are concerned about the ability to participate in the future workforce, take advantage of these programs. They are designed to quickly and cost-effectively provide both the digital skills and the experiential learning employers seek.

See the original article on LinkedIn here.


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