From aerospace to health care, Arizona has a fast-growing, dynamic economy. As employers in the state, we are seeking talent to fill jobs available right now. This need is only going to grow as many of the jobs that today’s kindergartners will eventually hold don’t even exist yet. The shelf life of skills is only shrinking, and a troubling skills gap abounds as we move into a future in which technology touches every facet of our economy. Even now, more than two-thirds of information technology jobs are outside what is considered the tech sector.
In Arizona alone, there are more than 9,800 open computing jobs. With an average salary of $84,866 — 83 percent higher than the state’s average salary — these jobs present profound economic opportunity for Arizona’s citizens. But nearly half of Arizona’s K-12 schools don’t even offer computer science education. Add to that our state’s universities did not graduate a single new teacher prepared to teach computer science in 2016.
Of course, sustained economic growth requires more than simply preparing our students for the demands of today’s employers. It demands that we prepare all of Arizona’s students with the skills and knowledge they need to adapt, as well as to succeed in the jobs of tomorrow. We must embrace new disciplines to provide our future workforce with the skills they need to compete. This is an opportunity we may squander if we don’t build the necessary capacity for schools to provide all students with access to a high-quality computer science education.
The Legislature approved $1 million in funding for fiscal-year 2019 to expand the Governors’ Partnership for K-12 Computer Science pilot program, allowing schools to offer high-quality, rigorous training for hundreds of teachers who in turn can reach tens of thousands of students without access to computer science in their schools now. The funding is rooted in and supports the potential of our economy’s greatest asset: teachers. By funding this professional development, Arizona can rapidly expand access to computer science learning experiences for all of our students at a time when equity gaps plague our nation’s fastest growing fields. Consider this: Among high school students taking advanced placement computer science exams in Arizona, just 22 percent are female,
19 percent are Hispanic and less than 2 percent are black.
Having well-prepared teachers who can teach computer science to students throughout K-12 is key to improving access and helping close the talent gap that exists in Arizona. A female student is 10 times more likely to major in computer science after just one computer science course in high school. Black and Hispanic students are seven times more likely to major in computer science after access to a computer science course in high school.
For Arizona, investing in computer science education is more than an economic imperative. It is an opportunity imperative. And our legislators can now seize that opportunity to build critical capacity among our educators and new career pathways for our students. Together, we can ensure that our students are prepared for success today and the jobs of tomorrow.
— Steven G. Zylstra is president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council.
The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.