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IVP Conference: Skills Gap, Outdated Regulations Threaten California’s Tech Dominance

In a state of over 38 million people, Californians – as well as the rest of the U.S. – have come to rely inextricably upon the capabilities of modern telecommunications technologies. Whether it’s your smartphone accessing the cloud to download the latest cat video, taking an online class in a virtual classroom, or launching another tech startup, the tech industry lends itself to almost every aspect of daily life.

Likewise, in California alone, the information and communication technologies industry generates over $172 billion in revenue and accounts for over 1 million jobs.

During the Independent Voter Project’s annual Business and Leadership Conference, discussions about technology and communication focused on three major challenges in the industry: addressing the skills gap, modernizing outdated regulatory priorities, and developing an attractive business environment to encourage job growth in California.

Addressing California’s Skills Gap

By 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there will be 1.4 million new computer science jobs, but only about 400,000 trained workers available to fill them.

According to Code.org:

“The annual job growth [in computer science] is almost 3x the rate of students graduating with bachelor’s degrees [in that field].”

This phenomenon is known as the ‘skills gap,’ and it poses a major challenge to the communications industry.

California and Montana share a spot at the bottom of the list when it comes to math requirements nationwide.

As for California, it could threaten Silicon Valley’s supremacy as the gravitational center for the technology sector. However, there are possible solutions to the skills gap worth considering, not the least of which is a re-examination of the state’s education curriculum — math and computer science requirements in particular.

Currently, California and Montana share a spot at the bottom of the list when it comes to math requirements nationwide. High school students need only two years of math in order to graduate, whereas most other states require three or four years.

One way to address the issue would be to add a year or two to the existing math requirement and allow computer science classes to count for one of the additional years of study.

Bringing Regulations into the 21st Century

The first telephone was put to use in 1876 and for over a hundred years, government policies and regulatory agencies have been directed largely at the same technology — voice communication via telephones on a copper landline.

Yet it’s only taken a few decades for consumers to shift toward broadband Internet as their preferred medium of communication. Consequently, the number of households with landlines in use has dropped significantly since 2004. It’s down nearly 40%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As a result, long-standing regulatory agencies are still prioritizing their oversight resources in areas that have little to do with real-world consumer experience, essentially slowing progress across the board.

Today, over 86% of California residents have access to and use the Internet. The vast majority of personal communications is taking place through broadband networks – not the traditional landline networks of the past.

So the policy question for California has become, ‘how will regulatory agencies adapt to changes in technology, as opposed to focusing on policies that may soon be obsolete?’

Encouraging Innovation in California

Innovation and technology go hand in hand. However, it can be more complicated than one might expect for the California economy to actually benefit when a tech company or start up innovates.

When businesses look at where to locate, invest, or focus more resources, the first consideration is whether or not the cost-to-benefit exchange makes sense. While this is a long-standing debate in California politics, it lies at the center of what’s next for the information and communication technology industry.

Attracting the next Google or Facebook to California won’t be a product of the state’s weather climate alone; it will require new incentives to encourage small businesses as well as large ones to locate and do business in California as opposed to other states like Texas, which boasts a burgeoning tech community and fewer regulatory costs.