By: Anne Barth     October 30, 2017

As technology becomes more embedded in our daily lives, one thing remains certain: technology has changed the way many of us work, and more changes will continue in the coming decade. Already, technology has automated many traditional blue collar industries and similar advancements are quickly spreading to the white collar world.

However, this new digital workplace is also giving rise to the need for tens of thousands of software coding jobs across all sectors. Just consider the rapid advancement of self-driving cars, the Internet of Things, artificial reality, data analysis and virtual reality. We grow more connected to and dependent on technology day by day.

The need for a greatly expanded digital age workforce was discussed at TechConnectWV’s recent West Virginia Coding & Cyber Summit.

Leaders in education, private industry, education and the public sector came together to help set a dynamic course by which West Virginia can close the skills gap and get more workers into digital jobs. One interesting point we heard is that many of these jobs don’t require a four-year degree, or even a two-year degree. Many students can get certifications needed to enter these jobs through short-term training, including multi-month boot camps.

We also heard about IBM’s “New Collar” jobs initiative, which aims to find people with the right skills at the right time. IBM Vice President for Human Resources Obed Louissaint told the gathering this will include both people with college degrees who are “re-skilled” and those without a degree who acquire the necessary skills.

Bernard McKay, Chief Policy Officer and Senior VP at Intuit, cited Ireland’s transformation from an agrarian society just 50 years ago to a thriving tech hub as an example for West Virginia to consider. He noted that workforce development, STEAM education and economic development all work hand-in-hand to produce success.

Finally, attendees learned that software coding and cybersecurity programs are being offered by a number of the state’s two- and four-year institutions, and three “coding” camps have sprung up in the last year.

These programs give people an opportunity to learn and tech skills that will land them in “new collar” occupations now and in years to come. So what else must West Virginia do to ensure that we can help our workforce prepare for this tech-centric future?

First, we must continue to scale up opportunities to teach coding to adults and offer these in more locations in the state. We also must make sure we’re developing ways to incorporate coding into classroom activities and instruction at all levels in our public school system.

Second, while we’re scaling up these programs and making sure the curriculum is right, we also need to let people know where these programs are offered and how to sign up.

Third, we need to continue to focus added attention on ways to provide for expanded broadband connectivity.

We can do it all. We can transition and diversify our economy, create new high-tech job opportunities and build West Virginia’s brighter future in the digital world.

Anne Barth is Executive Director of TechConnect West Virginia, which is a statewide economic development organization dedicated to the advancement of science, technology, and the innovation economy in West Virginia.