This article originally appeared in CNBC on April 13, 2018)
To maintain America’s innovative edge, we need a two-prong policy approach of boosting STEM education and training for Americans to fill the jobs of the future, while fixing our high-skilled immigration system.
Startups are powering tech, a dynamic and evolving industry that touches every part of our lives, from the medical treatments we undergo to the way we book a place to stay on vacation. This ever-evolving success story could not have happened without the amazingly talented people conceiving ideas and turning them into life-enhancing innovations.
Today, the biggest need of any startup is talent — creative, highly-skilled workers who can turn ideas into the next big technological revolution. To maintain America’s innovative edge, we need a two-prong policy approach of boosting STEM education and training for Americans to fill the jobs of the future, while fixing our high-skilled immigration system so that businesses can recruit the best people for these jobs today without harming U.S. workers.
Right now, our education system is lagging behind. Today, there are more than 500,000 well-paying computing jobs currently unfilled in the U.S. By 2020, there will be one million more computing jobs nationally than there will be graduates to fill them, resulting in a $500 billion opportunity gap.
Additionally, only one out of four K-12 schools teach any computer science, even though nine out of ten parents say they want it taught in their children’s schools. We must prioritize and support programs that ensure principles of computer science, computational thinking, and STEM skills are integrated into K-12 education.
At the federal level, this means committing at least $250 million in annual federal funding to help bring computer science education to the schools that do not currently have the resources to offer it.
At the same time, we know the future of work is rapidly changing. More needs to be done to prepare America’s workforce to meet the needs of a global, interconnected, and technology-driven economy. That means providing lifelong learning, retraining, and reskilling programs that allow workers to attain the education and skills they need.
Employers also have the responsibility to lead in this area by partnering with schools and non-profits to get more young people interested in STEM and mentoring people within their organizations to take on new challenges and leadership roles.
Still, we currently face persistent high-skilled labor shortages, and startups also need access to the best talent from across the world to fill those jobs and continue innovating.
From Apple to Google to AT&T, some of the world’s most valuable businesses were started by immigrants or children of immigrants. In fact, no less than 43 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded or co-founded by an immigrant or the child of an immigrant, and that figure rises to 57 percent among the Fortune 500 Top 35.
Similarly, more than half (44 of 87) of America’s startup companies valued at $1 billion dollars or more were started by immigrants. Other countries have recognized the importance of attracting the world’s best tech talent and created dedicated entrepreneur visas to attract job creators to their shores. We need to do the same by preserving the International Entrepreneur Rule.
While the current debate in Washington is focused on a permanent legislative solution for the Dreamers — who were brought to the U.S. as children, have been educated in our schools, and are contributing to our workforces and economy — we also need high-skilled immigration reform that helps fill critical high-skilled labor shortages and increases our global competitiveness.
In short, to remain the most innovative country on earth, we must win the global fight for talent. There are concrete, bipartisan, and creative ways we can foster growth and attract talent, but they require action. Without it, we will surely lose our edge.
Commentary by Bruce E. Aust, vice chairman of Nasdaq and president of the Nasdaq entrepreneurial center, located in San Francisco. Aust is also an executive council member of TechNet.