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Our Planet Needs Saving—Investing In Students And Workers Could Help

James Rhyu is the Chief Executive Officer of Stride, Inc.

Record-breaking heat. Historic flooding. Severe wildfires. These are just a few of the many weather-related headlines that have inundated our news feeds in recent weeks.

In fact, this summer serves as an urgent reminder that climate change is a phenomenon that impacts many of us. More than 40% of Americans live in a county that was hit by climate-induced extreme weather last year. And according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, global warming will continue to have severe ramifications “unless deep reductions in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades.”

Despite what you may have heard and read, this isn’t a Democratic issue. It’s not a Republican issue. It’s a human issue. We all want what’s best for our children, their children and their children. So I know one question keeping many of us up at night is: Are we doing enough to make our communities safer, more sustainable and more equipped to combat climate change? In my view, the answer is no. Instead of allowing our divisions around this issue to cloud our better judgment, I believe we must allow partnerships—between academic institutions, businesses and workforce development programs—to guide us as we develop more forward-thinking solutions for today and tomorrow.

As someone who’s held various roles in the educational technology space, I know this kind of investment can be a win-win solution for everyone. However, the first part of building better partnerships is helping students and adult learners gain a better grasp of the jobs that exist across our ecosystem—including those of software developers, data scientists and other IT professionals—that can play a critical role in fighting climate change.

Throughout the country, software developers and engineers are helping us ensure that data centers are more energy-efficient and limiting their environmental footprint. Software developers are finding new ways to help lower pollution emitted from cars and factories. And they’re even taking steps to make software development more energy-efficient.

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Data scientists are another vital tool in our shared fight against climate change. By analyzing data that helps inform the ways in which we tackle the climate crisis, data scientists are critical for helping us discover, create and implement solutions. As the Columbia University Data Science Institute further explains, “data science is a powerful tool to help researchers understand the uncertainties and ambiguities inherent in data, to identify interventions, strategies, and solutions that realize co-benefits for humanity and the environment.”

With just 18% of adults believing they were very career-ready upon graduating high school, we must do more to help students and adult learners understand the breadth and depth of these kinds of IT positions that can play key roles in climate change.

To help bridge the knowledge gap, academic institutions and businesses must work together to connect more middle and high schoolers to hands-on IT opportunities early in their academic journeys. By providing more courses on environmental, climate and sustainability studies and exposing students to career opportunities in tech through internships or other workplace learning programs, we can help ensure that our future leaders have the tools they need to champion sustainable development—no matter what careers they ultimately pursue.

Additionally, we must work together to offer reskilling programs that focus on tech to help adult learners—particularly those seeking a career transition—by introducing them to industries, experts and experiences that can point them to fulfilling careers in IT fields.

Make no mistake, our country’s knowledge gap when it comes to tech careers is indicative of a larger issue that the tech field is facing: a talent shortage. IT occupations are expected to grow by 13% from 2020 to 2030, yet 76% of IT decision-makers say they’re “facing a talent shortage.”

If we want to have a better shot at bridging these gaps and protecting our communities against the threat of climate change in the process, we must first do a better job of ensuring that students as young as middle schoolers know what IT jobs exist in the first place. Then, we must give students and adult learners the resources they need to train and earn the certifications necessary to perform in these roles. And finally, businesses must be more intentional about creating internships, apprenticeships and other work-based learning opportunities for students and young adults.

Climate change isn’t just an environmental issue—it’s also an economic one. Extreme weather cost our nation $145 billion last year. The decision is clear: We must do more to save our planet and build a stronger economy at the same time. I think investing more in our students and workers is the best way to get there.


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