Why TechHire needs to continue with the next U.S. president

We’re now a year into the White House’s TechHire initiative to help more Americans qualify for better, higher-paying tech jobs regardless of their pedigree. The verdict so far? TechHire has seen solid traction, but evaluating this effort through a short-term lens misses the point of its grand ambitions.

Amid so many other election-year storylines, it’s easy to overlook initiatives in place now that ought to outlast the Obama administration’s tenure. To fully realize its potential and help close the skills gap in tech that is hurting us as Americans, TechHire needs to continue through to the next presidential administration. There is much we stand to lose from shuttering TechHire, and much to gain by supporting its continuation.

A broken pipeline of tech workers

Look at any job board today and you’ll notice there are almost always a significant number of openings for tech positions. That’s because there are currently more than half a million of these jobs going unfilled — a figure that is estimated to double by 2020 due to an inability to secure skilled talent.

Targeting the ranks of the unemployed offers little help, as the majority is severely underqualified for these roles. It’s only going to get worse for employers, but this isn’t only going to affect recruiting. Skills gaps can lead to high on-the-job training costs, slower growth and productivity losses (more to come on that last one).

Losing our competitive edge in the global economy

There’s no other way to look at it: The longer we let the skills gap in tech persist, the further we’re going to fall behind in the world economy. We’re not alone in this — McKinsey predicts a potential global shortage of hundreds of millions of skills workers — but it is our responsibility as a nation to lead out.

Programs like TechHire should be above politics.

Disappointingly, America is anything but a leader on the global stage when it comes to developing these skills in our workforce. In fact, we’re stumbling where other advanced countries are succeeding. U.S. workers are just average at problem-solving with computers, and alarmingly only outrank Spain and Italy in math, according to a report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The $1 trillion-a-year problem

The dearth of digital skills is also driving exorbitant inefficiencies in the workplace. Lost productivity due to lack of employee proficiency with workplace technologies costs the U.S. economy approximately $1 trillion annually.

Technology has revolutionized the way we work, but in its wake it has left a workforce that lacks the tech savvy to take advantage of these transformational tools. On-the-job training and high-quality online courses are critical in powering proficiency and mastery of these tools that make up the fabric of the modern workplace.

TechHire: A cause worth championing

Even with a resurgent economy, we still have 5.43 million jobs open today. Recently, the number of job openings hit a record high in the 15 years since it started being tracked. Glassdoor’s Best Jobs in America list suggests many of these vacancies are in lucrative tech positions. It pays to speak programming languages: The average salary in IT jobs is 50 percent higher than the average private-sector job, and wage growth for tech workers outpaces the national average (7.7 percent versus 2.2 percent).

The longer we let the skills gap in tech persist, the further we’re going to fall behind in the world economy.

TechHire is one way we can fix our broken pipeline and expand access to these well-paying jobs. In President Obama’s final SOTU address this year, he discussed the importance of helping students learn to write computer code, and shortly thereafter launched his Computer Science for All Initiative, calling for more than $4 billion in funding in order to provide every K-12 student with access to computer science curriculum. Throughout his presidency, this notion has received quite a bit of attention, most notably from the launch and continued development of TechHire.

The fallout from failing to bridge the skills gap is great. For example, the devastating hack of the Office of Personnel Management and its 21.5 million victims serve as a stark reminder of why cybersecurity is mission critical. And the president was personally burned by slapdash software development in the HealthCare.gov debacle.

We need these skills to protect against global threats, like China trying to steal our intellectual property, and to stay competitive internationally, given India is on pace to overtake the U.S. on the number of developers by 2017. Other countries are making significant headway on us in key technology sectors, and we urgently need to turn the tide.

A challenge to the tech community

While it isn’t a silver bullet, TechHire deserves bipartisan support because it serves as a galvanizing influence on so many other organic efforts to tackle the skills gap. As is often the case with big problems, grassroots efforts to deliver technical skills and reduce unemployment have emerged over the years, including “benevolent bootcamps” like LaunchCode in St. Louis and Code.org’s national push to immerse K-12 kids in science and computing projects from an early age.

These noble efforts, and others like them, are validated and reinforced when public-private partnerships like TechHire flourish. On their own, none of these initiatives can make a dent in the massive skills gap problem; but in concert, they absolutely can, and will.

We need to push for the continuation of all of these programs, and none faces greater political obstacles than TechHire because of our partisan environment. Programs like TechHire should be above politics. I challenge both corporate America and citizens at large to support the efforts of the Obama administration in regard to technical advancement to help fill jobs across the tech sector. I also call for bipartisan support to not only keep this initiative in place, but also help it expand and connect to other private efforts, regardless of who takes over the Oval Office next.

My company sees the value in this initiative, and last year committed to donating $20 million to the cause. Organizations like Cisco, Microsoft and others are doing their part, but we need to galvanize the tech community and organizations big and small to push this movement forward. The stakes are too high to let TechHire sunset with the Obama administration.