Philadelphia is quietly leading the way on advancements in technology, education, and female empowerment. These three areas are uniquely intertwined, and each is helping to move the others forward.
One of the primary reasons these align so well is because the future of work is changing. A generational shift toward a tech-enabled workforce is creating opportunities for new innovators to emerge, and Philadelphia is rapidly stepping to the fore.
A recent report by the Brookings Institution identified the natural innovation district that stretches from Comcast’s headquarters in Center City to the research and innovation taking place at Penn, Drexel, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and elsewhere in University City.
The size and competency of the city’s technological workforce are critical to attracting employers and launching new start-ups. Indeed, a high-quality workforce was one of the key requirements that attracted Amazon to put Philadelphia on its current shortlist of possible sites for a second headquarters, which would add 50,000 jobs.
But whether Amazon chooses Philadelphia or not, we must continue to grow our technological workforce to meet the needs of employers in nearly every industry. To be sure, it is nearly impossible to earn a paycheck today without at least a cursory understanding of how the web works or how to navigate a software program. Most jobs require an even deeper level of familiarity or proficiency with more complex and varied technologies.
At the same time, the U.S. has a shortage of tech workers. A survey by Randstad North America, a staffing and consulting firm, found there were roughly 3 million more STEM jobs available than workers.
It will be up to the next generation of workers to fill the void. That is where education and female empowerment come in. Women are notoriously underrepresented in traditional technology fields. At a time when we must reevaluate our education system in terms of STEM fields and success measurement, it affords us the opportunity to redesign how we engage with girls from as early as middle school through to college and into their careers.
To help advance this goal, Drexel University and TechGirlz – a national nonprofit bringing technology training to middle-school girls launched and run here in Philadelphia – recently announced plans to partner on a wide range of initiatives designed to advance girls’ interest in technology, including workshops and summer camps. Together, TechGirlz and Drexel are committing to delivering more citywide resources and opportunities for girls to receive technology instruction and experience a college environment from a young age. We believe this signals a shift in higher education to identify, nurture, and recruit next-generation technology talent much the way some schools pursue athletes.
But there is more that everyone can do. Sign up to be a volunteer instructor at a TechGirlz camp, or encourage your children to experiment with online coding courses or deconstruct an old computer.
The only way we create meaningful and lasting change is to create a rich fabric of technology engagement interwoven through the home, our schools, and available after-school options. By providing these options for children, we can show them that technology is a core part of their life and build the foundation for a career-long — even lifelong — embrace of it.
And by bringing more girls into the fold of tech-enabled workforce training, we can propel Philadelphia forward as an attractive destination for both companies and families. Philadelphia has an opportunity to be a pioneer in the ways in which it prepares its young people for tech careers and ensures that girls remain at the center of that discussion.
John Fry is president of Drexel University and Tracey Welson-Rossman is the founder of TechGirlz.