Congress is proposing an innovative approach to building the federal technology talent pipeline for computer science roles, one that should be exciting for schools and students.
On June 14, 2019, Reps. Lizzie Fletcher (D-Tx.), Rob Bishop (R-Ut.), Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), Conor Lamb (D-Penn.), and Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) introduced H.R. 3266, also known as the JROTC Cyber Training Act. It’s bipartisan legislation that directs the Secretary of Defense to carry out a program to enhance the preparation of students in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) for careers in computer science and cybersecurity. This legislation has the potential to bring evidence-based computer science and cybersecurity education to 500,000 students at 3,400 JROTC high schools across the U.S.
Locations of Army JRTOC programs at U.S. high schools. Source: US Army JROTC website
Young people skilled in technology are in high demand. By 2026, the U.S. Department of Labor projects there will be 3.5 million computing-related jobs, yet our current education pipeline, as it stands, will only fill 19 percent of those openings. And while 58 percent of projected STEM jobs are computing related, only 10 percent of STEM degree recipients are in computing fields.
Moreover, a study from the (ISC)², a cybersecurity professional organization, estimates there is currently a shortage of 500,000 cybersecurity workers in the U.S. (and almost 3 million globally).
In an environment of abundant jobs and few candidates, it is challenging for the federal government to compete for talent against the private sector. A recent search on USAJobs, the federal government’s employment website, revealed 12,600 open technology positions. Meanwhile a similar search on Indeed.com returned more than 12 times as many results.
With the slow pace of the federal hiring process (often requiring citizenship and security clearance requirements), and the lure of high salaries and resort-like perks in the tech sector, the picture looks even bleaker for the future of our federal workforce.
The JROTC Cyber Act seeks to address this challenge by leveraging the JROTC, a longstanding Department of Defense (DOD) education program serving a large population of students interested in serving the country in defense-related roles. The legislation aims to tap that interest to prepare more young people for careers in computing and cybersecurity.
The Act also supports federal workforce diversity goals. A report by the RAND Corporation found that JROTC is well-represented among public high schools with large minority populations, and strongly represented in schools serving economically disadvantaged populations, whether measured by Title I eligibility or free and reduced-price lunch program participation.
“The JROTC program prepares young students for a future career in defense through relevant classes and extracurricular activities. It makes clear sense that with the changing needs of the armed services, we provide training in the technical skills that will best serve both the students and our military,” stated Rep. Fletcher (D-Texas). “These skills will not only help our armed forces, but diversify the field of future military and civilian personnel who can leverage their skills even beyond our nation’s frontlines. I am proud to support this legislation and introduce it.”
The DOD estimates that 30 percent of JROTC cadets join the military after high school or college, representing a significant workforce yield from the program. The remaining 70 percent of cadets constitute a large pool of talent that could fill civilian roles in the federal government and jobs within the private defense and cybersecurity ecosystem.
The bill has enjoyed broad bipartisan support, as well as support from education and industry. Intel called the bill “central to the education and development of the future U.S. workforce, which will ultimately lead the launch of the world’s next moonshot.” It has been endorsed by multiple national computer science education organizations including AnitaB.org, Code.org, the College Board, Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA), CSforALL, the National Girls Collaborative Project, and the National Center for Women & IT (NCWIT).
What does this mean for schools & students?
The legislation recommends that the DOD provide computer science and cybersecurity for students at the 3,400-plus high schools that host JROTC programs. This includes instructor training, program quality improvement, internships for students, extra-curricular programs, and evaluation. Read the full text of the legislation.
Excerpted from H.R. 3266:
(c) ACTIVITIES.—Activities under the program may include the following:
‘‘(1) Establishment of targeted internships and cooperative research opportunities in computer science and cybersecurity at defense laboratories and other technical centers for students in and instructors of the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.‘‘
(2) Funding for training and other supports for instructors to teach evidence-based courses in computer science and cybersecurity to students.‘‘
(3) Efforts and activities that improve the quality of cybersecurity and computer science educational, training opportunities, and curricula for students and instructors.‘‘
(4) Development of travel opportunities, demonstrations, mentoring programs, and informal computer science and cybersecurity education for students and instructors.
Though growing rapidly, access to rigorous computer science and cybersecurity preparation in U.S. high schools remains limited. As of 2017, fewer than 20 percent of JROTC schools offered the AP Computer Science Principles course, according to College Board data. The JROTC Cyber Training Act would broaden investments in K-12 computer science and cybersecurity education at the federal level, and facilitates collaboration between DOD research labs and school districts for internships, volunteers and other opportunities. The bill also opens the door to increasing the diversity of those taking these courses, as many JROTC participants are minority students from low-income backgrounds.
If passed, the JROTC Cyber Training Act will go into effect in FY 2020. High schools that already house JROTC programs and offer computer science classes can get a head start by encouraging their students into those classes. Those without established CS programs should consider crafting a district-wide CS education implementation plan.