There are more than 600,000 open computing job in the U.S. today and a shortage of cyber technology professionals to fill these jobs, including crucial roles in the federal government.  According to Rep. Ami Bera, MD (D-CA), “We have critical national security needs that are going unmet because the government struggles to attract and retain necessary talent.” Bera discusses a possible solution, the TechCorps Bill, which could energize the federal technology workforce and provide options to help reduce student debt.

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Recorded April 26, 2017.  Hosted by Robert Traynham.  Read a partial transcript of this interview below.

Traynham:  There are currently more than 600,000 open computing jobs nationwide. Last year, an estimated 60,000 computer-science students graduated into the workforce. Congressman Ami Bera, who´s a Democrat from California, is here to join us. Congressman, why are there so many open jobs?

Bera: Well, we know where the future workforce is gonna need — technology and the technological revolution. But what we´re not doing is if you look at the K-12 educational system, you know, we´re not teaching our kids how to code, we´re not exposing them early on enough. And what we´ve got to do is start modernizing public education so we have that linked learning, training our kids with those skill sets that they´re gonna need for the future.

Traynham: I remember when I was in elementary school there were all these nurses and doctors — and by a way of background, we should also mention to our viewers you are also a medical doctor — coming into the elementary schools and saying, “We need more doctors and nurses.” And I remember asking my teacher, “Why are they talking to us in the fifth grade?” And they´re saying, “Well, we need these people in the pipeline now, because when they graduate from high school, hopefully they will pick being, you know, premed or whatever the case may be for college.” In other words, they were trying to indoctrinate us from the beginning. I get the sense that more and more people are doing that with young people when it comes to STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math — making math fun, making science fun. Is that part of the problem? There´s not enough people in the pipeline, or kids in the pipeline?

Bera: Absolutely. I´m on the Science and Technology Committee, and we´ve had experts come in, and they say as early as elementary school is when we should start exposing kids to the basics of coding. That´s the new language of the future. Part of the challenge is we don´t have many teachers that know how to code and can teach that coding, and part of what we have to do is start incenting teachers to get that skill. They can go through 12-week boot camps and the like, get those skills, go back into coding. Now, though, the challenge is we can´t pay them $40,000 a year to teach, because you just saw that job mismatch. Silicon Valley will hire them for $100,000. I´m the son of a public-school teacher. Let´s make teaching a profession so if you go out and get this critical skill set necessary to teach our kids, let´s pay those teachers a little bit more.

Traynham: So, Dr. Bera, it sounds like that is the long-term maybe solution to this problem, but what is the short-term solution? How do you get some folks to sign up for those Silicon Valley jobs now, today?

Bera: Well, some of what we think about is this bill called Tech Corps to incent folks to go into technology, particularly for the government, right? We have critical cybersecurity needs. We can´t hire the best and the brightest, so we´ve introduced a bill that says “You know, if you go out and get that technological training and then come work for the government and serve our government and our country, you know, we´ll help forgive some of those student loans.”

Traynham: So, I think that´s important to really kind of drill down a minute, because as I understand it, more and more people are getting advanced degrees, but they´re coming out with heavy debts. They´re coming out with significant amounts of student-loan debt, and they´re saying, “I guess I´m smart, but I have this piece of paper that says I have all these zeroes behind it in terms of the debt that I have.” So repeat this again — What are you specifically calling for here?

Bera: So, we´re calling for the creation of a Tech Corps, which incents folks to go into critical jobs and so forth.

Traynham: Sure.

Bera: And then if they get those technological skills and they´re willing to come work for the federal government, we would help pay off some of their student loans.

Traynham: I think that is phenomenal. And so for someone who is really interested in this program, Dr. Bera, what´s the next step? Is it still in infantile stage? Is this signed into law?

Bera: No. So, we´ve introduced the bill. The next step for folks that are watching this who are interested in this, contact your member of Congress, tell him to get on the Tech Corps bill.