On a recent trip back to his home town in Wisconsin, Brad Smith, President and Chief Legal Officer of Microsoft, experienced the reality of rural life and emerging technologies. He was blown away that over 50% of his home town didn’t have access to broadband. When he returned home to Seattle he started to research where technology companies are obtaining their engineers and developers. He found that most of these employees come from areas that have access to broadband, such as Silicon Valley, Seattle, and other larger cities in the US. While more people from the rural areas of the country are more likely to go into a non-technology related field. This is when TechSpark was created.
TechSpark is a new civic program that aims to foster economic opportunity for all Americans. To do this, there are 10 regions across the US. They are focused around rural areas that have limited exposure to technology and broadband. There are five pillars of TechSpark which aims to close the technology gap between the rural areas and cities across America.
According to Microsoft’s TechSpark fact sheet:
- The US has nearly 500,000 unfilled computing jobs
- This number is expected to be over 1.7 million jobs by the end of next year.
- Last year, only 42,969 computer science students graduated with bachelor’s degrees.
- There are 7.3 million fewer jobs in the United States today for people with a high school degree or less than there were in 1989. At the same time, 6 million jobs in our country go unfilled due in large part to a shortage of skilled workers.
- 23.4 million Americans who live in rural communities lack access to the economic, educational, and health opportunities broadband provides.
To help with these statistics, TechSpark has five areas that they will continue to work on.
Digital Transformation. Microsoft in partnership with local organizations, will work with businesses in traditional industries to develop their own digital technology advances and foster business growth.
Digital Skills and Computer Science Education. Programs like Technology Education and Literacy in Schools Program (TEALS) bring computer science education to more high schools. TEALS is an industry-wide effort that brings computer science engineers from Microsoft and other companies together with classroom teachers to team-teach computer science during the school day. Quincy High School has been working with TEALS for the last four years. Now they are offering two regular classes and two advanced classes. A DigiGirlz event was held at CBTech this spring, with 90 girls attending from the Moses Lake area. They were exposed to different career paths, met with professional women from the Grant County area, and were able to learn code in a computer lab.
Career Pathways. Microsoft will partner with high schools, community colleges and other institutions to expand learning environments, by providing greater access to technology tools, training and other resources. This will enable people to acquire the skills and connect with jobs that require less than a traditional four-year degree.
Rural Broadband. Microsoft will invest and partner with telecommunications firms in specific regions to expand broadband coverage to targeted rural areas. Microsoft has already donated $200,000 for the build out of fiber to the City of George.
Support for Nonprofits. Microsoft Philanthropies has pledged to increase its financial and technology support for non-profit groups in each region.