It's no secret that nearly every industry is turning toward technology.
To help build the workforce of the future, technology giants are working to bolster K–12 education in middle America, specifically targeting subjects that will help young students learn the skills they’ll need as traditional jobs like agriculture and manufacturing evolve with the rise of emerging technology.
Work in rural, agricultural America has seen major disruption from innovative technology, globalization and a shift away from resources like coal and steel. At the same time, major companies are recognizing the potential of a generation that will be looking for jobs as the market for jobs in these fields changes — and offers new options to workers and employers.
“It is our job as parents, educators and technology creators to encourage children to test the waters of STEM, whether they simply want exposure to science and technology, or they have a curiosity as to how to design and launch a rocket,” Ann Woo, senior director of corporate citizenship at Samsung Electronics North America, wrote in the Houston Business Journal. “Many science and engineering ideas come to life through the devices we hold in our hands, but cutting-edge technologies aren’t easily available to every young person.”
Increased STEM funding from private companies comes as Americans raise concerns over the attention science, technology, engineering and math classes get in the U.S. education system.
According to a recent Pew survey, just 61 percent of those surveyed thought K–12 schools were properly teaching reading, writing and math, and only 25 percent thought schools were giving STEM classes enough time in the classroom.
“People saw problems stemming from parents, problems stemming from students, as well as problems stemming from teaching style,” Cary Funk, director of science and society research at Pew and the study’s lead author told The Hechinger Report.
Microsoft Invests in American Agriculture
To help prepare young rural Americans for the new demands of a tech-integrated workforce, Microsoft has partnered with the National Future Farmers of America to invest in agricultural education, EdScoop reports.
The partnership, called “Blue 365,” will focus on some of the most common tech solutions being introduced into the agricultural sphere, including cloud technology, robotics and advanced communications, according to Mary Snapp, corporate vice president and lead for Microsoft Philanthropies.
“Since our nation’s beginning, the farm has been a foundation of American society, but too often rural communities do not have broadband access or don’t have access to the digital skills needed on today’s modern farms,” Snapp wrote in a blog post. “As a company that develops technology that plays a role in transforming society, we have a responsibility to help people across all geographies gain access to opportunities and skills that will help them participate, and thrive, in the digital economy.”
In addition to this new program, which will be unveiled in Indianapolis this October, Microsoft announced it would lower the price for classroom technology, including the Lenovo 100e and laptops that run Office 365, in order to help schools in lower-income areas, such as those in rural counties where agricultural and manufacturing jobs have traditionally been more prevalent.
“Affordability is the top priority for many schools,” wrote Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for Windows and devices, in a blog post. “Shrinking budgets can lead schools to choose devices with a stripped-down experience and a limited lifespan, unfortunately costing more over time and offering less to students.”
Google Offers Digital Skills Workshops and Coaches
While Microsoft is investing directly in agricultural studies, Google is using a mix of digital training programs and affordable tools to introduce new technology solutions to students in rural communities.
“Grow with Google,” a hub for teachers announced late last year, offers digital workshops on skills in high demand by employers, which teachers can use in tandem with Chromebooks to give their students an edge for their future in a competitive, tech-driven workforce.
The site has tips on everything from using virtual and augmented reality in the classroom to creating a computer science club, and also features professional-development offerings for teachers who need to boost their own technology skills.
“We understand there’s uncertainty and even concern about the pace of technological change,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote in a blog post after announcing the initiative at an event in Pittsburgh, Penn. “But we know that technology will be an engine of America’s growth for years to come.”