Lansing — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is preparing a “Marshall Plan for talent” and seeking major investments as he works to boost educational and training opportunities for the high-tech jobs of today and tomorrow.
The second-term Republican governor is expected to roll out plans in coming weeks and will ask legislators for a “fairly significant” amount of one-time state funding to jumpstart efforts at the K-12 school, community college and university levels.
The Snyder administration has already begun efforts to address shortages in K-12 computer science teachers and direct students toward an industry that helped the former Gateway computer chief executive make his personal fortune.
“This is one of the most dynamic, fastest-growing areas in our entire economy, and that’s not going to change,” the governor told computer science students this month at East Lansing High School.
“In many respects, our education system didn’t recognize that fast enough — government didn’t recognize that fast enough — and we’re playing catch-up.”
Snyder’s push comes as Detroit and other communities attempt to woo Amazon, a massive online retailer considering locations for its second world headquarters. Parts of his plan were included in Detroit’s pitch, the governor said Monday.
“Everyone in the world is bidding for this headquarters, and the way I viewed it is, it was a great rallying cry to identify the need for more IT people for existing companies,” Snyder said at a Facebook event. “It’s clear we need to do a lot more.”
Among the barriers Snyder is trying to knock down: A dearth of educators capable of teaching advanced computer science skills.
Michigan this year eliminated a required certification endorsement to lead computer science classes. Instead, teachers can show evidence of relevant experience, a flexible standard local districts can establish as they work to expand offerings.
“Because the computer science field evolves so rapidly, it has been difficult to adjust the standards fast enough for the endorsement to meet the same criteria as our other endorsements connected to teacher certificates,” said William DiSessa, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Education.
Education experts say it can be hard to find qualified information technology teachers because the positions can be part-time, don’t pay as much as the private sector and require continual learning to stay on top of technology.
“If I’m six months behind, I’m obsolete,” said Martin Ballard, who teaches computer classes and chairs the Career Technical Education Department at Avondale High School in Auburn Hills. “There certainly has to be a drive and the dedication to say: If I’m going to teach this, I have to be prepared.”
Michigan has 382 K-12 schools with at least one teacher assigned to a computer science or programming class, according to the state Department of Education. That’s roughly 11 percent of the 3,344 traditional public and charter schools in the state, including more than 1,500 high schools.
Seventy-one Michigan schools offered an Advanced Placement computer science course in 2015-16, and less than 1,000 Michigan students took the AP computer science exam.
Tech giants such as Microsoft, Google and Facebook are offering support to fill the void by helping states and schools train workers for the high-demand jobs.
But Snyder is encouraging more public-private partnerships to bring tech professionals into K-12 classrooms. He is also working to change curriculum standards to encourage more student participation, backing a House-approved bill that would treat computer science classes as a foreign language.
“If you think about it, it’s learning another language,” Snyder told East Lansing students, comparing coding syntax and rules to grammar. “We want to create more opportunities.”
In demand and well-paid
Job growth in tech industries is outpacing other fields and is expected to lap the competition in coming years, according to the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget.
Michigan is projected to add more than 10,000 jobs in computer systems design and related services between 2014 and 2024. The 22 percent growth rate should easily surpass the 7.4 percent rate across all fields.
Software developer jobs are expected to grow 20 percent by 2024, producing an average of 541 openings each year. Median pay for software developers was $39.79 per hour in 2016, or $82,770 per year, according to the state.
Computer-specific jobs are among the top-paying Michigan occupations in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. Median pay for computer and information systems managers is $56.17 an hour, and $50.04 an hour for computer network architects, according to the state.
The Snyder administration is pursuing changes to curriculum requirements that would help students interested in high-demand jobs, including advanced manufacturing positions and other skilled trades.
Recently approved state House bills would allow students to earn one of four required math credits by completing an approved career and technical education program or class. The state also wants to allow career health programs to count toward health or physical education requirements.
“When you go out and talk to businesses, there’s a realization of the rapidity of technology right now, whether it’s artificial intelligence or mobility or robotics or big data or advanced materials,” Roger Curtis, director of the Michigan Department of Talent and Economic Development, told legislators this month.
Students will need to continue learning and getting new skills throughout their careers, he said. “So we’re not training kids for just a job, we’re literally training them for a career and to continue that.”
At Avondale, Ballard is scaling up computer science courses. The school offers AP programming, web design and networking. He is planning to add cybersecurity and forensics classes in coming years.
“They know this is big,” Ballard said of students. “If this is the track students are desiring to take, why are we waiting until college to let them see that for the very first time?”
East Lansing students were huddled around monitors when Snyder visited their new computer science class. The smart board displayed a running code they had developed — a random number generator for possible scores in the football game between Michigan State University and the University of Michigan.
The class is led by one traditional teacher with help from four volunteers, including a physics professor, a research hydrologist and an IT professional. The class launched this year with support from Microsoft TEALS, a philanthropic effort to increase technology education and literacy in schools.
Over two years, the traditional teacher — in this case, a part-time instructor certified in industrial and technology education — will gradually take over the course from the volunteers.
“We’d love to grow our program,” said Dori Leyko, acting superintendent for the East Lansing Public Schools. “It’s a challenge for us, especially on a part-time basis, to find a teacher to teach that along with other courses.”
A Microsoft employee started the TEALS program in 2009, and the company is now working with 348 schools around the country, including 10 in Michigan, said Mary Snapp, corporate vice president and head of Microsoft Philanthropies.
“About 75 percent of the new jobs by the end of the decade will require some kind of technical skills,” Snapp said. “So we really started to raise awareness of the need for the technical skills, and now we really need to build the infrastructure so we can provide it.”
Several tech companies are backing Code.org, a nonprofit that provided grants that helped more than 80 Michigan teachers attend a training seminar this summer.
Facebook recently announced a new partnership with Grand Circus, a Detroit-based IT hub, to provide free coding and digital marketing training to 3,000 Michigan residents over the next two years. Google is working with the state film office to offer free online computer science courses to fourth- through eighth-graders.
“What you’re doing here is a precursor to what we need to be doing in every school in our state,” Snyder said in East Lansing. “And we need to start doing it beyond even high school.”