Recently, the Missouri Chamber Foundation released a report claiming that Missouri is situated for high growth in the technology industry in the next decade. This is a great opportunity, but Missouri may not be ready to take advantage of it.
The report projects Missouri to be the ninth-highest state in tech growth over the next decade with 2.9 percent growth, ahead of the national 2.1 percent projection. The tech industry includes energy, environmental, life sciences and information technology (IT).
Despite projected growth, Missouri workers may not be prepared to fill the needs of an expanding tech industry, as jobs could outpace the availability of skilled workers. A survey by Gallup of 1,000 Missouri employers find that only 44 percent were satisfied with the current availability of skilled workers, and only 15 percent agree that high schools are preparing students for the workforce. In 2016 one of the largest workforce gaps was in Science and Technology—around a 9 percent gap between the workforce demand and available workers.
This gap shows the need for more high school graduates prepared to enter the tech field. If students graduate with the proper credentials, they could have access to a high-demand job and enter the workforce immediately. The largest tech sector in Missouri is IT, of which high school students can earn over 15 IT-related industry-recognized credentials (IRCs) approved by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). An IRC is a nationally recognized credential that tests job skills, awarded by a third-party professional organization. In 2018, fewer than 500 IT-related IRCs were earned among Missouri high school students (less than one percent of the graduating class if all test takers were seniors) according to data received from DESE.
Florida and North Carolina have found that providing bonus pay to teachers is one way to get more students to graduate with an IRC. Bonus pay encourages high schools and teachers to focus on the important work of preparing students for a career.
A growing tech sector would be a huge boon to Missouri’s economy. But if we don’t act now to ensure our workforce is ready for these jobs, the potential boon will turn into a missed opportunity.