U.S. companies in every industry are desperate for tech talent. Interviews for technical roles, like software developers and data scientists, increased 106% from early 2020 to 2021, according to data from HackerRank. Recruiters are worried about filling all of those open positions.
Looking ahead, this demand won’t slow down. Software developer job openings are expected to grow 22% over the next decade, while the average growth rate among all jobs is 4%. With companies embracing remote or hybrid work as we emerge from the pandemic, tech talent can theoretically work many of those jobs from anywhere. But nearly a quarter of American adults don’t have access to high-speed broadband at home, cutting them off from these abundant and lucrative roles.
Portions of the American Jobs Plan, which legislators are negotiating now, may offer a solution. Calling high-speed connections “the new electricity,” the original proposal includes a $100 billion investment to bring broadband access to every American. It also commits $48 billion to teaching in-demand skills, including for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) jobs, which will help grow the tech talent pool to keep up with demand.
The proposal would train new talent and open access to those who would otherwise be shut out of tech roles, ensuring that the technical skills gap U.S. companies face doesn’t become a chasm. Here’s how.
Ensuring remote roles can be truly remote
The pandemic has permanently changed where many tech workers do their jobs. Over the last year, technology firms including Twitter and Dropbox led a major shift in the work landscape by announcing their employees can stay remote forever. Companies across industries are following suit, with many embracing remote-first or hybrid models.
As companies reconsider how their workplaces run, those that embrace remote work will have an easier time hiring for every role. With 87% percent of workers wanting to stay at least partially remote after Covid-19, going remote lets companies tap into a much wider talent pool. But the millions of Americans without home broadband access—who historically couldn’t access tech jobs in cities because they disproportionately live in rural areas—will be shut out of remote work too.
Investing $100 billion in broadband infrastructure would change that. Many companies have taken the first step to increase access to tech jobs by removing in-person requirements. Over time, expanding broadband access will help people in remote areas participate equally in remote work.
Training a new generation of tech talent
In addition to expanding broadband access, the proposal commits $48 billion to training in-demand skills, including those required for STEM jobs. For example, it would help high school and community college students access computer science training programs. Initiatives like this will grow the tech talent pool to keep up with demand.
In parallel, companies must embrace skills-based hiring for technical roles and source talent from programs like the ones the American Jobs Plan would fund. With college enrollment down nationwide, using traditional pedigree markers like Ivy League degrees to fill these roles will become less and less viable.
Tech giants like Apple and Google are leading this change, having nixed college degree requirements for some jobs. More companies should source talent from outside their traditional hiring boxes, especially as other paths into tech jobs—like coding bootcamps and even self-teaching—become more popular. This will give them access to a broader, more diverse talent pool and allow them to keep filling open tech roles.
Setting the stage for a bigger, more diverse tech workforce
In addition to broadening the tech talent pool through training programs, the proposal could set the stage for a larger and more diverse future tech workforce.
There’s a huge digital divide among children in the U.S., which disproportionately harms low-income and underserved populations. Covid-19 laid bare the urgency of addressing this problem. In California, for example, 25% of students can’t attend remote school because they don’t have internet access; 60% of those students are Black, Latinx, or Native American.
Investing $100 billion in broadband infrastructure would help close the divide. Leveling the digital playing field for children now is critical to prepare them for the jobs of the future, and it could help foster a more diverse tech workforce in the decades ahead. This would be a boon for U.S. companies: Studies show that diverse teams are more innovative, a key ingredient to staying competitive.
As we emerge from Covid-19 in the U.S., the world we’re entering is very different from the one we left. Technology powers our work, communication, shopping, and travel more than ever, which means companies in every industry need more tech talent. Investing in broadband infrastructure would help keep that talent supply and demand aligned in the years to come. Making these investments would be a win-win-win—for tech workers, companies, and the U.S. economy.
Vivek Ravisankar is CEO and cofounder of HackerRank.