In late 2018, I was quite taken with Wall Street technology reporter Christopher Mims’ article “Every Company is Now a Tech Company.” At the time, I felt its title neatly encapsulated my own long-held belief, though I also thought he avoided following the idea through to its logical conclusion. For if every company truly is a tech company (spoiler: they are), then our efforts to train the current and future workforce are woefully inadequate.
Flash forward 18 months and Mims’ piece has certainly been validated, and is now being leapfrogged by a pandemic. Prior to the creep of coronavirus around the globe, we were already talking about the incredible penetration of technology into traditional industries like manufacturing and agriculture. Companies like UPS and FedEx were obviously more than just delivery services, they were complex technology operations. Ditto for massive retailers, music platforms and more. Software was indeed eating the world.
But a worldwide stoppage and then restart due to COVID-19 has only accelerated this digital transformation. Because even though the pandemic made it obvious how reliant we are upon hourly wage and gig economy workers for many of our daily needs, they were supported by companies that operated in the cloud and through code.
Nearly every company that could, has embraced a future of remote work. Schools were forced to turn to distance learning. Online commerce and delivery became lifelines for millions of people around the world stuck in their homes. Companies of every shape and size suddenly had to push their tech efforts into hyper gear. For those that had delayed investments in tech had to make the hard decision to ramp up quickly or shutter their businesses.
This was especially true for small businesses. A May report from the Connected Commerce Council estimated that 76% of small businesses would be relying on digital technology to operate. My firsthand experience reinforces this. In my day job at a software development consulting firm, I have seen a decided uptick in thousands of small(er) companies across all different industries that are turning to technology to gain an edge over competitors and more effectively deliver their products to market.
This explosion will only continue, even if the pandemic slows or stops. This is because a business does not have to sell software to be a technology company. Consider a healthcare company that recently began working with our team at Chariot Solutions. They make a blood pressure cuff that connects to a mobile app to more easily capture and store data, vital capabilities in the new era of telehealth. It’s a product decades old, but that now leverages tech to be more useful and relevant.
But with this expanded embrace of our technology, our workforce problem has become worse now than when Mims’ article originally ran in 2018. With a more tech-reliant society and economy, we need even more tech-familiar workers. An April report by CompTIA predicted that the tech workforce will grow another 4% in 2020. But this will still leave us millions of workers short.
To close this gap, we must invest more heavily in training talent and building a tech-capable workforce. Importantly, these are not just coders or computer science majors; they are tech fluent marketers, database admins, game developers, security experts, educators, assembly line operators, farmers, and more.
This is also an incredible opportunity to tip the scales of social justice by economically empowering women and people of color. In a self-supporting cycle of popular culture and reality, tech workers are overwhelmingly male and white.
To solve our job shortage and produce the workers needed for a reality where “every company is now a tech company,” we must recruit nontraditional candidates to the tech workforce. At a time when people are desperate for work and open to reskilling, we can take advantage of a widespread willingness to jump careers and start fresh.
Not only does this fill open jobs and help jumpstart the economy, it also makes companies more competitive. Studies have repeatedly shown that organizations with diverse teams outperform their competition.
So now – as in late 2018 – we must acknowledge that the reality of our technology needs cannot be supported with our current workforce. At a time when America is clamoring for social reform and justice, we have an opportunity to address two overlapping issues together. Companies, colleges, high schools, municipalities, and nonprofits all have a role to play through training, apprenticeships, and awareness.
Ultimately, training more women and people of color for our tech future will create a more equitable workforce where these traditionally disenfranchised populations can learn new skills, earn greater economic opportunity, and build stronger financial futures.
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