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We need to prepare our kids for 21st century jobs

Girls Who Code
Source: Girls Who Code

Donald Trump struck a chord with many voters by recognizing the anxiety they feel about their future in the global economy. The jobs created in America today look very different than before. The skills required, the type of work, and increased global competition all serve as real challenges for millions of Americans who simply want to provide for their families. But the country remains deeply divided as to how we can address these concerns.

Today there are many different constituencies that face economic anxiety. But, to succeed, we need to look forward to where the economy is going: technology, creativity, entrepreneurialism, instead of backward towards closed borders, trade barriers and factory smokestacks.

Unfortunately, an important constituency that represents over half of this country is still getting left behind in this new economy: women. The upshot is that with some effort the new president, congress, governors and state legislators can help bridge that gap and create new opportunities for our next generation of women to capture 21st century jobs.

In 2015, there were 500,000 unfilled computing jobs in the United States, and only 40,000 new computer science graduates to fill them, according to a report we published with Accenture. This gap represents an incredible economic opportunity for Americans and a critical economic imperative for America.

Yet, only 18 percent of computer science graduates last year were women. Sad! And, it makes no economic sense. In order to fill the enormous computing skills shortage, we need to educate more girls to pursue computer science and equip more schools to teach them.

Today, a combination of stereotypes, lack of role models, unengaging curricula, and often lack of equipment or effective broadband all create an environment where girls' interest in computing rapidly declines starting in middle school. I believe that every girl has the potential to be a computer scientist.

"Starting in January, policy makers at the state and federal level can help us close the gender gap in computing. As President-Elect Trump and Secretary Clinton have proposed, we can invest in infrastructure to make sure that all students have connectivity and tools to learn computing in public schools."

Through our work at Girls Who Code, we've found that we can spark girls' interest after school and during the summer by demonstrating the real-world impact of coding, and by providing a supportive community that cheers our students on. This combination works.

We've seen young women and communities bring incredible dedication and creativity to our Girls Who Code clubs in Scranton, Pennsylvania; Carroll County, Ohio; and New Castle, Kentucky. Over 65 percent of girls in our after-school clubs expressed interest in majoring or minoring in computer science.

But we cannot do this alone. Our program in Scranton relies on volunteers to drive our girls an hour each way to the University of Scranton. In Carroll County, Ohio, our girls are fortunate enough to find space at their local library. In New Castle, Kentucky, a club formed through the support of the Board of Education.

Even our success stories show how far there is to go. In 2016, nearly a quarter of schools like our school in Carroll County lack sufficient broadband capacity, and 40 percent lack Wi-Fi in the classroom.

As our program in Scranton shows, there simply are not enough teachers, let alone a representative pool of female teachers, trained to offer an inclusive learning environment. And many schools only offer basic technology literacy, rather than rigorous computer science courses, particularly during critical middle school years when we must spark girls' interest.

Starting in January, policy makers at the state and federal level can help us close the gender gap in computing. As President-Elect Trump and Secretary Clinton have proposed, we can invest in infrastructure to make sure that all students have connectivity and tools to learn computing in public schools.

We can ensure that schools around the country have access to high quality after-school programs to drive girls' interest. We can make sure that our public universities are preparing the next generation of educators to serve as inclusive role models for learning computer science. Our own research suggests that by starting in junior high, we can bring more than 1.6 million girls into the computing workforce by 2025.

It is incumbent upon all of us, as parents, as leaders, as Americans to rise to this challenge. Looking forward to tomorrow's jobs, we need to teach a new set of skills, prepare for global competition rather than run from it, and make sure that we are able to meet these new demands by expanding our pool of talent rather than contracting it.

Together, we can build a future where our next generation of girls and boys will win the future through creativity, through bravery, through teamwork. At Girls Who Code, we are committed to doing everything we can to achieve this vision of prosperity. Together, let's get to work.

Commentary by Reshma Saujani, CEO and founder, Girls Who Code. Follow her on Twitter@reshmasaujani.

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