Senator Wicker on STEM Education, Coding Academies

Senator Wicker points to the Mississippi Coding Academies for their potential to close the wage gap

Senator Wicker’s office release this press release that notes the potential of the Mississippi Coding Academies to close the “skills gap” and offer a way to take on the shortage of coders in the state and the country.

We’re very excited to be working to expand Mississippi Coding Academies with encouragement from Senator Wicker and his staff.

Innovate Mississippi, Community Colleges Are Working to Close ‘Skills Gap’

Earlier this month, I welcomed Ivanka Trump to my D.C. office for a meeting about apprenticeships and other technical education programs.  We share an interest in cultivating opportunities for students to succeed in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, recognizing the value these skills have in today’s job market.

Workers with STEM skills will continue to be in high demand.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that STEM jobs are growing faster and earning higher wages than non-STEM jobs.  Most of these STEM careers are related to computers – a field that is expected to produce more than a million job openings by 2024.

Coding Programs Help Foster Job Success

At the same time, recent reports suggest a widening “skills gap.”  The number of graduates with computer science degrees falls far short of the number of open computing jobs.  Mike Forster of Innovate Mississippi recently testified about this problem before the Senate subcommittee on technology issues, which I chair. 

Innovate Mississippi created the Mississippi Coding Academies as a way to combat the shortage of coding professionals.  Our state has some 1,200 open jobs requiring those skills but only about 250 computer science students graduating each year.  These academies can offer a path to a well-paying job for those who may not seek a two- or four-year college degree.  As we have already seen with the Base Camp Coding Academy in Water Valley, coding programs can put high school graduates into excellent jobs at leading companies.

Industry, Educators Collaborate on Apprenticeships

Student training should match the skills employers seek.  Two bills I have sponsored recognize the need for industry involvement.  One, titled the “Computer Science Career Education Act,” would support grants for career education programs.  The other, my “Apprenticeship Enhancement Act,” would remove bureaucratic hurdles for companies to create apprenticeship programs.  The “Apprenticeship Enhancement Act” supports the goal of the executive order President Trump issued last year to increase apprenticeship opportunities.   

On-the-job training can make a big difference in securing employment.  The Labor Department states that more than 90 percent of students who complete an apprenticeship will have a job after their program concludes.  In Mississippi, for example, Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula is expected to hire hundreds of apprentices this year from its highly competitive program in the Haley Reeves Barbour Maritime Training Academy.  The program at Ingalls has a partnership with Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, giving students both academic credit and trade experience.

More successes are undoubtedly ahead.  The launch of the Mississippi Apprenticeship Program (MAP) should help foster more registered apprenticeships in our state.  Last year, the program announced that Empire Truck Sales and Stribling Equipment would be working with Hinds Community College to give students real job training as they work toward their degrees. 

Efforts like MAP demonstrate the commitment in Mississippi to cultivate strategic pathways for students to find fulfilling, well-paying careers.  Broadband deployment can help ensure that those pathways come with the connectivity needed for coding and computer training.  By combining the ideas of educational institutions, industry leaders, and state agencies, we can give today’s students the best preparation possible to succeed and prosper in a 21st-century workforce.