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Column: It's time to refocus students and workforce on technology
Geoff Duncan
Geoff Duncan

Packages delivered by drones. Medical procedures performed by robots. Students taking online courses from teachers who are multiple time zones away. Self-driving trucks able to zip through traffic. Talking to Siri, Alexa and a host of other smart devices to provide intelligent information and guidance.

In today’s high-tech world, these ever-advancing conveniences of technology are becoming common-place in the everyday life of Georgians and across the globe.

But we could soon hit a wall very quickly in their development as job growth in the tech sector is so large that it is outpacing a supply of workers. Georgia is the most attractive place to do business, and our state is drawing an abundance of companies who see the benefit of locating in our state.

Ever since I became lieutenant governor, I have made it my goal to make Georgia the high-tech capital of the East Coast. To do that, however, we must train students and workers with the skills that make them job-ready for the 21st Century.

On Monday, I will address a conference at Lanier Technical College focusing on high-tech strategies for Georgia workers and students that are key to implementing this vision.

Emerging data shows the need for refocusing the skills of current workers or giving students a new set of skills for today’s workforce.

For example:

A 2017 report by the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce found that 36% of all job postings were IT jobs.

Price Waterhouse Coopers reported that 38% or about four in 10 jobs would soon be eliminated by automation. The jobs particularly vulnerable are those in transportation, manufacturing and retail.

Home Depot has recruited 65% of its software developers from out of state.

Meanwhile, in 2019, the business research firm Gartner projected that 2 million new artificial intelligence jobs will be created in the U.S. by 2025. It projected those jobs would primarily be in health care, education and the public sector. It reported that manufacturing would be the hardest hit.

Industry analysts also say there is a real demand for women with high-tech skills in the workplace.

With the elimination of so many low-level and mid-level jobs and the creation of highly skilled tech jobs, we need to train students in computer coding, program design and software development. Systems analysts, app developers, cybersecurity workers, program analysts and the like are needed more than we can imagine across a variety of corporations and tech-specific companies.

Amazon, for example, is spending $700 million to retrain 100,000 U.S. warehouse workers to become data center employees. It will also give them an opportunity to increase their earnings from $15 to $30 per hour.

Every single industry is embracing technology, and the demand for technology skills is imperative. That is why during the 2019 session of the Georgia legislature Senate Bill 108 was passed. It requires all Georgia middle and high schools to offer computer science courses. And for those that can’t afford new equipment, they can offer the courses in a virtual environment.

This legislation is important since less than 1% of all students in Georgia complete a computer science course in high school. If our job is to educate students for future employment, then we cannot neglect the need for computer science and technology training as it now touches every industry.

Not every employee will write computer coding, create the next new app or provide software support or cybersecurity at their place of employment. But technology is going to be a critical component of any job from caring for patients to running a bakery, practicing law to repairing the newest automobile.

Having skills beyond knowing how to utilize a keyboard and work the internet will be key to function in the future. And to make Georgia the technology capital in the world, I am encouraging all of us to adapt and learn as quickly as possible in this ever-changing environment.

Geoff Duncan, a Republican from Cumming, is Georgia’s lieutenant governor. He is the former CEO of Wellview Health and attended the Georgia Institute of Technology.