The impact of the world’s technological revolution has been unprecedented. In my lifetime alone, I have witnessed the first moon landing, the first desktop computer, the invention of the internet, the introduction of smart phones and very soon I expect to see the introduction of driverless cars. It is a staggering advancement in such a short time.

Yet the biggest force to emerge from this boom is not any one product or service, but a dependency on a new digital economy. Entire countries and their infrastructures are now driven and reliant on digital solutions for their prosperity and growth.

This digital economy is expected to grow rapidly over the next few years. By 2020, 70% of the world’s population (6.1 billion people) are expected to have access to smart phones. The impact of this goes far beyond simple consumer use. Technological innovations are being developed to serve society; from digital libraries for those who can’t easily access books to apps to help farmers to minimize water waste in drought-stricken countries.

While this exponential growth in innovation is set to continue, there is a vast gap in digital skills that threatens to derail it. Last year, there were more than 600,000 high-paying tech jobs across the United States that were unfilled, and by 2018, 51% of all STEM jobs are projected to be in computer science-related fields. Computer science and data science are not only important for the tech sector, but for so many industries including transportation, healthcare, education, and financial services.

Parents increasingly recognize this need. More than nine out ten parents surveyed say they want computer science taught at their child’s school. However, by some estimates, just one quarter of all the K-12 schools in the United States offer high-quality computer science with programming and coding. Twenty two states still do not allow it to count towards high school graduation, even as other advanced economies are making it available for all students. Whatever desire there is from the younger generation to learn digital skills, the institutions that can support and implement them are too often sadly lacking.

With the growth of Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics and the Internet of Things, this digital chasm will only widen unless we can bring in a young, skilled workforce to fill those roles. This next generation will be the driving force for our economies in the decades to come, so it is vital that policy makers, educational institutions and businesses work together to upskill their abilities.

 

Skills

Industry must play a key role in public-private education partnerships to inspire and prepare the talent of the future to become great innovators, entrepreneurs and succeed in jobs that do not even exist today. We are very passionate about empowering youth, and it’s a subject that I covered in my keynote address at the White House this summer, while presenting the second annual TCS-Chevron STEM Mentoring Awards.

At TCS, our community initiatives have inspired more than two million young people around the world to pursue STEM education and careers. We are very proud to be founding partners for two national mentoring initiatives in the United States, US2020 and Million Women Mentors.

Launched at the White House Science Fair in 2013, US2020 has built a national coalition of 250 organizations, including 13 city coalitions, providing high impact mentoring for students from ethnic minorities and low income groups.

Founded with a purpose of removing barriers facing women and increase their participation from 24% of the STEM workforce to 50%, Million Women Mentors has surpassed the original goal of engaging 1 million mentors for mentoring girls and young women, growing to a national movement of 60+ cross-sector organizations across 39 US states.

Through our own flagship student engagement program – TCS goIT – we have engaged over 12,000 middle and high school students with hands-on experiences in computer science, inspiring them towards tech careers in all sectors.

 

Mindset

There are opportunities here, but more work is required. Industry, government, nonprofits, and education sectors need to collectively create solutions to build these skills. Tech leaders also need to nurture a positive mindset around digital inclusion and education. It is our responsibility to raise awareness of the opportunities around tech skills on a local level by sharing our knowledge and highlighting experience, successes, and opportunities.

We can learn from the younger generation too. Students today tell us they don’t like formal, classroom education. There are so many ways of learning – the classroom is not always best. According to the American Psychological Association, the younger generation responds more to multimedia-led classes, including using social media tools as a learning aid. Our research in India shows that more than two-thirds (83%) of the younger generation view the smartphone as their most coveted electronic gadget. So, while skills and jobs are certainly part of the equation, the right mindset, training agenda and workplace infrastructure are also crucial.

By creating a desire and shared goal to improve people’s lives through technology, we can empower local leaders to implement the infrastructure that caters to the needs of this younger generation.

Young people across the world are already deeply entwined with the digital economy – in many ways they are the driving force behind this societal change. However, there is clearly a gap between the levels of knowledge, education and skills available to prepare them for this next step. They need organizations and governments to recognize these digital realities and ensure that there are opportunities to shape their own destinies. That is what responsive and responsible leadership really looks like.

 

Surya Kant is President of North America, UK & Europe, at Tata Consultancy Services