U.S. News just came out with its ranking of the 100 best jobs for 2014. No. 1 on the list? Software developer, based on salary, job openings, advancement potential, and career fulfillment. It’s the first time a tech job has topped the chart.
In fact, tech jobs grabbed three of the top 10 slots, two of those three beating out jobs like physician, dentist, and pharmacist.
I caught up with Jackie Montesinos-Suarez, head of corporate social responsibility in North America for SAP, to get her take on the demand for tech jobs and the role businesses will play in ensuring there are candidates to meet that demand. Here are excerpts from our conversation:
Q: U.S. News just rated software developer as the very best of the 100 best jobs for 2014. Did that surprise you?
JMS: I was excited but not surprised. For the past two years we’ve been working closely with more than 100 educational institutions and nonprofits to drive science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education at the high-school level, especially in North America. The goal is to ensure STEM skills are being developed in high school and college. Because we know the skills employers will need in the future all involve technology.
There are a few statistics that I think really highlight the situation. First, among 34 developed countries, the United States ranked 17th in reading, 21st in science, and 26th in math, according to a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that was released last December.
Second, STEM jobs in the United States will grow nearly two times faster than the average for all jobs over the next four years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. During that period, tech companies alone will need to fill 430,000 STEM jobs.
Third, recent graduates are facing a $1 trillion student-debt bubble as they enter what’s still the toughest job market in a generation.
Educating young people to be prepared for STEM jobs is good for them, it’s good for society, and it’s good for business. It helps address the need for skilled workers, and helps build a strong middle class who will be our customers.
Q: No. 2 on the U.S. News list is systems analyst, which in the era of Big Data is morphing into the role of data scientist. What other tech trends are driving skills demand?
JMS: There’s no question Big Data is driving demand for new skills. And this has been an important area for us at SAP. Through our University Alliances program, we’re ensuring that at least 1 million students every year have an opportunity to use SAP HANA, our in-memory platform for Big Data analytics.
Another area I think will be crucial is mobile technology. In the past, a lot of information technology seemed abstract to younger students. But more and more middle-school students have smartphones. This is technology they can hold in their hands.
That’s crucial, because researchers have measured a big drop-off in interest in STEM subjects between middle school and high school. Mobile devices make technology real, something students can touch and see the value of. And I think that will drive interest in STEM subjects.
Q: There’s a perception that most STEM jobs are outside the United States. Is that accurate?
JMS: Last year I got to attend the White House Tech Inclusion Summit and hear Todd Clark, the United States chief technology officer. He pointed out that there’s a misperception that many STEM jobs are in India or being outsourced to China.
By 2018 there will be 1.2 million openings for STEM jobs in the United States. There will be 140,000 new software development jobs before 2022. Middle-skill tech jobs, such as entry-level programmers and medical technicians, will grow by almost 20 percent between 2010 and 2020—much faster than growth for other kinds of jobs. So these STEM opportunities are right here in our back yard.
Q: It’s not only IT providers who need STEM skills. Many organizations require software developers, systems analysts, and other tech talent. What can enterprises do to address the STEM shortage?
JMS: Industry needs to get involved in ensuring that students coming out of high school and college have the skills businesses need. In the past it was about private funding or scholarships. Today it’s more about corporations in a specific industry bringing their knowledge to a public-private partnership to create curriculums around the skills that are in high demand. The state provides the funding, and the industry provides the expertise.
This is the model we used when we created our B-TECH six-year high school, which will open this fall in Queens, N.Y. B-TECH stands for Business Technology Early College High School. The school will offer a technology-focused curriculum, and students will graduate with a high-school diploma from the State of New York and an associate’s degree from Queensborough Community College. They’ll also have tremendous opportunities to work with mentors and internships and gain real-world work experience. The goal is to prepare students for the jobs that will be available for them and that companies need to fill.
IBM is doing a similar thing with its P-TECH high school. But what’s interesting is that other technology-based high schools are opening that aren’t focused on the IT industry per se. Microsoft and New York-Presbyterian Hospital are opening a high school focused on healthcare IT. And the American Association of Advertising Agencies is opening one focused on technology in marketing and advertising.
All industries are realizing that we live in a world that runs on information technology. And students and educators are setting the bar high. Many of these students are extremely excited to get on a path to a tech career. Companies need to jump at the chance to meet their high expectations and drive the momentum forward.