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Our nation relies on a modern, highly-skilled workforce to remain competitive and innovative in today’s global economy. Yet current policies are inhibiting our ability to find and retain top-talent as well as cultivate a sustainable long-term talent pipeline that is required to achieve a strong 21st century workforce. At the 2018 CompTIA DC Fly-In, our Tech Policy Summit kicked off with a panel titled “Taking a Holistic Approach to Achieve a Skilled America” which examined high skilled immigration reform, improvement to STEM education curriculums, and job training.
The panel was moderated by Darrell M. West, Vice President and Director for Governance Studies and Founding Director for the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution. Panelists were: Amanda Ahlstrand, Administrator for the Office of Workforce Investment at the Employment and Training Administration at the Department of Labor; Christopher Bates, Chief Counsel to Senator Orrin G. Hatch, who is a senior member of theSenate Judiciary Committee; Jeremy Robbins, Executive Director, New American Economy and Tracey Welson-Rossman, Founder and CEO, TechGirlz.
Gaining New Skills
Panelists began by describing what they are doing to help workers gain news skills including those that have already started their career.
Discussed was the mission of the Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration (ETA) is to contribute to the U.S. labor market by providing high quality job training, employment, labor market information, and income maintenance services primarily through state and local workforce development systems.
Also discussed was the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant program, a major investment by the Department of Labor to increase the ability of community colleges to address the challenges of today's workforce.
Welson-Rossman, founder of TechGirlz, talked about the Philadelphia-based nonprofit that provides middles school girls with extracurricular STEM classes and whose mission is to inspire them to explore the possibilities of technology to empower their future careers.
“TechGirlz is my second job. I work in the software consulting business, TechGirlz came out of that job. I experienced a million dollars’ worth of tech jobs on the table that I could not fill. I was not seeing diversity coming through our pipeline. We know our industry is creative and dynamic, but it’s not portrayed that way, girls are self-selecting out of tech career at 9th grade,” said Welson-Rossman. “My question: how are we as an industry portraying technology careers; how do we value smart girls; how do we value those girls who want to be in science and technology – if we lose them in 9th grade we’re not going to get them at the end of college. We need to address gender issues and address the gender divide that exists in the tech sector.”
High Skilled Immigration Reform
There was also discussion about the Immigration Innovation Act of 2018 (I-Squared), a piece of legislation that was recently introduced in Congress by Republican Senators Orrin Hatch and Jeff Flake on January 25, 2018.
According to Bates, Chief Counsel to Senator Orrin G. Hatch, “The bill will help ensure that our companies have access to the world’s best and brightest and are able to fill jobs in highly technical, specialized fields for which there is a shortage of American labor. At the same time, it addresses abuses in the H-1B visa program to ensure the program is not used to outsource jobs or undercut American wages. And it provides nearly $1 billion in new funding for STEM education and worker training programs through increases in visa fees.”
Bates also noted that one of the major provisions of the bill would increase the number of H-1B visas available for applicants possessing a U.S. master’s degree or above.
Another provision impacts green cards. According to Bates, there’s a percentage limit right now on how many green cards can be awarded to individuals from a particular country. Large countries have a longer backlog, which is unfair to workers from those countries.
Robbins from New American Economy said, “I-Squared is a fabulous bill, however, there is a role that each of you can play to shape the debate on immigration. Tell your story and get involved on a hyper locally basis – like helping cities set up international recruit programs. There is a huge backtracking in this space and it’s important to relay the message about talent and a better workforce pipeline.”
Lana Sansur is the Senior Marketing Manager for Policy and Public Sector