Special to the Sun
Half the jobs we think our children might fill in the future are vanishing. Artificial Intelligence, relentless technological innovation and robots are conspiring to kidnap those jobs, and there is no ransom large enough to bring these jobs back. Technological and data literacy is no longer a bonus – it is a requirement to get ahead in the 21st century economy.
Too many young people and parents, school systems and universities buy into a false notion that education for education’s sake prepares the next generation to be productive participants in the economy of the future. A future already here.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms are driving much of what you do on the web and the apps you utilize today. AI is progressively becoming more pervasive and more powerful. It drives your work day, vacation choices and reading habits. Algorithms predict the next video content you’ll consume “over the top” on the web before you even know it exists. Artificial Intelligence may get to know you better than you will ever know yourself.
While software and microchips are powerful drivers of modern-day technology, this is certainly not the first time that technology has changed the way humans live. In a speech to Silicon Valley executives 20 years ago, the late Rev. Billy Graham described how technology transformed the nation of Israel, “In one generation, the nation of the people of Israel had a tremendous and dramatic change that made them a great power in the near east. King David came to the throne and became one of the great leaders of his generation. But, about two centuries before David, the Hittites had discovered the secret of smelting and processing of iron. And, slowly, that skill spread, but they wouldn’t allow the Israelites to investigate it or to have any. David changed all of that, and he introduced the Iron Age to Israel.
“The Bible says that David laid up great stores of iron which archaeologists have found, and in present-day Palestine there are evidences of that generation. Instead of crude tools made of sticks and stones, Israel now had iron plows and sickles and hoes, military weapons and during one generation, Israel was completely changed. The introduction of iron in some ways had an impact a little bit like the microchip is having on our generation.”
Like the Israelites who lacked the vison and leadership to embrace the skills of iron making until David came along, Mississippi lacked the visionary leadership necessary to embrace the Industrial Revolution birthed well over a century ago. In the mid-1800s, half of America’s millionaires lived in Natchez thanks to Mississippi’s stronghold on the agricultural economy. Conversely, later that century and well into the next as the Industrial Revolution transformed the United States, Mississippians clung to her agrarian past. Instead of leading or merely embracing the ripening fruits of the industrial age, she clung tightly to what had been.
What is it about the past, the good and the bad, that was and is so mesmerizing to Mississippians? None of us, not one, can change the past but each of us can change the future. We should not only embrace the challenge to get caught up in this roaring revolution in tech, but race to get ahead. As David’s Israel utilized hardware to till soil, Mississippians should broadly and obsessively develop coding skills to till software. Yes, it will require vast change in educational and cultural thinking. Most importantly, it will require bold, visionary leadership. To move Mississippi’s economy forward, fast in this era of technological dependence, it must be done.
It’s time to act. We at C Spire are acting and leading in a big way via the C Spire Tech Movement. One example - the C Spire Coding Competition, or as we like to call it, C3 - is an initiative from the C Spire Tech Movement that affords kids a real-life education. Our programmers and other IT professionals act as mentors to high school kids throughout Mississippi. For a day, several times each year, students get to experience the critical thinking and problem-solving challenges that software developers and engineers face every day. These are the jobs that must be filled to advance Mississippi.
Teaching our students is not enough. Because of technological disruption, one third of America’s current workforce will need to find new jobs by 2030. Companies will have to invest in their employees to unlock the benefits of advanced worker skillsets and technological acumen. By 2024, there will be more than one million computer programming and I.T. related jobs vacant in the United States with thousands of these in Mississippi. If we don’t equip our workforce now, who will do this important work tomorrow?
One way that the C Spire Tech Movement is addressing workplace training is through our partnership with Microsoft’s Technology Education and Literacy in Schools program or TEALS. Unfortunately, many schools in Mississippi don’t have teachers qualified to teach AP Computer Science. According to Code.org, only three schools in Mississippi offer AP Computer Science and only 16 students in the state took the AP Computer Science exam in 2016. Our investment in TEALS accomplishes two goals. First, it improves teachers’ skills and classroom instruction and provides on-the-job training for our educators. Second, by investing in our teachers, we enable them to equip our students for the modern work landscape.
In addition to supporting Mississippi’s teachers, the C Spire Tech Movement is working to create and improve computer science based technical programs at our community colleges. The technology revolution sweeping the world could leave lower-skilled workers without their current job. Coding programs and technology certifications are great ways to upskill Mississippi’s workforce.
One program available in Mississippi is the Basecamp Coding Academy in Water Valley. This program provides hands-on training to students who recently graduated high school who are not going on to obtain a four-year degree. After 12 months of training, these students are equipped to gain employment as software developers. C Spire is a founding sponsor of the Basecamp Coding Academy and we are working to develop similar programs across the state.
Mississippians are underexposed to how tech works. Currently, Silicon Valley, Austin, or New York probably come to mind when you think of technology hubs. We are beginning to change that. C Spire is bringing in leading technology ambassadors to present exciting ideas to Mississippians at MVMT 2018 at the convention center in downtown Jackson. If you want to see the latest and greatest in tech, you need to be at MVMT 2018. You will be able to listen to and interact with tech leaders like Randi Zuckerberg (Zuckerberg Media), Sarah Bond (Microsoft), and Howard Wright (Intel). Experience virtual reality from Exit Reality, Intel, and Lobaki or connected cars from Nokia. Learn from industry experts at Apple, Cisco, and Dell just to name a few. MVMT 2018 is our flagship event, and we hope it inspires and educates attendees to transform their lives and Mississippi’s future through tech.
If you live in Mississippi, you probably know about the Crossroads in Clarksdale. Well, Mississippians find themselves at a larger, strategic crossroads. We can prioritize tomorrow over yesterday by beginning, today, to participate in a dynamic tech revolution. We invite you to join us and become a part of the Tech Movement. Learn more about how you can participate at cspiretechmvmt.com.
Hu Meena is president and CEO of C Spire Wireless.