CTA VP Jennifer Taylor: The tech industry must commit to retraining in this new decade (here's how)

​​​​​​​We who are in the tech industry have a responsibility to train America’s workers

For those of us in the tech industry, the most wonderful time of the year isn’t December. It’s January – specifically, those exciting few days in January dedicated to CES®.

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Hosted every year in Las Vegas, CES is the world’s largest and most influential tech event. It’s the place where anyone who wants to make their mark on the industry comes to showcase their work. No other tech event offers as complete a picture of where the industry is and where it’s going.

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) is becoming a larger part of the show – and at CES 2020, AI and robotics will be bigger than ever. Companies are sharing amazing new innovations in machine learning and robotics that will allow us to reduce not only manual labor but analytical and clerical work as well.

That might sound like good news to some – but for those who have spent their lives doing manual labor or working a clerical job, it’s anything but encouraging. It’s a cause for anxiety, frustration – even fear.

I’ve seen that fear firsthand. I spent part of my childhood in Middletown, Ohio – the setting for J.D. Vance’s bestselling memoir "Hillbilly Elegy." Even at that young age, I knew something was amiss – that the world had moved on from this steel town and left workers and their families aimless and hopeless in its wake.

That early experience still resonates with me decades later. Exhilarating as the CES announcements in Las Vegas – or New York, San Francisco, Washington, D.C. – might be, they matter only to the extent they’re able to help people in cities and towns such as Middletown find fulfilling and sustaining work.

We in the tech industry have a responsibility to train America’s workers. Technological innovation almost always creates a net increase of jobs; since 2009, the industry has given over one million Americans the opportunity to use their talents in jobs including data security officer, app developer or social media manager.

Exhilarating as the CES announcements in Las Vegas – or New York, San Francisco, Washington, D.C. – might be, they matter only to the extent they’re able to help people in cities and towns such as Middletown find fulfilling and sustaining work.

In this new decade, those opportunities will only increase as tech-related jobs continue to grow, and new jobs that we can’t yet imagine emerge. But with these gains will inevitably come with losses – losses that we can help ease, if we take action now.

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I’m proud the Consumer Technology Association (CTA)® is leading the charge in this respect, throwing its best efforts behind initiatives designed to prepare workers for the new collar jobs of the future. In partnership with IBM, we’ve created an Apprenticeship Coalition through which our member companies can make use of IBM’s own remarkable resources from its highly successful apprenticeship program.

With these tools, tech companies can create a program that proactively scouts talent from non-traditional educational backgrounds and trains people to thrive in the workforce of the future.

Since its founding, major players including Amazon, Bosch, Ford and Sony have joined. With the input of coalition members, CTA recently published an Apprenticeship White Paper to serve as a practical guide for tech companies to understand the value of apprenticeships, their structure and how they can fill talent pipelines in unconventional ways.

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Developing apprenticeship programs isn’t an act of charity or generosity on their part – it’s a necessity. I bet nearly every industry leader you meet at CES 2020 will tell you they’re struggling to find the talent they need.

2019 CTA survey reports 80 percent of tech employers say is hard to find candidates with the right skills. Rather than waiting for our education system to supply this talent, however, tech leaders have decided to build it themselves through apprenticeship programs. In fact, that same survey found the tech industry will lead retraining and reskilling efforts: Over two-thirds of business leaders surveyed plan to implement reskilling programs so workers can keep up with technological change.

I expect to be dazzled and delighted at CES 2020 – but I also expect to ask a lot of questions. It’s easy to get caught up in the buzz and thrill of the innovation on display; that is, after all, how the event is designed.

But even as I admire the creative thinking and bold imagination brings these innovators to the CES floor, I plan to ask them what steps they’re taking to include workers from all backgrounds. As we begin this next decade, my hope is that technology will live up to its promise – a promise of greater freedom, accessibility and prosperity for everyone.

Jennifer Taylor is vice president of U.S. Jobs and Industry Affairs at the Consumer Technology Association (CTA)®.

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