Emily Bratcher is an associate editor at Associations Now in Washington, DC.
Associations are backing some of the hottest trends in tech, from the soaring popularity of apps to the strengthening market for robotics—and they're also helping to raise a future workforce that's more diverse.
Cutting-edge technologies are changing the world as we know it. With virtual reality, you can lose yourself in someone else’s world. From the tap of an app on your smartphone, you can make sure your home’s security system is on. There are even driverless cars on the road.
But with all of this revolutionizing, there are bound to be growing pains, ranging from a talent shortage to a poor public persona to big questions about privacy and security—and this is where associations come in. Here’s how a number of organizations are making an impact on the future of technology.
A3: Association for Advancing Automation
Ann Arbor, Michigan
The North American robotics market had a record-breaking 2016: Robotics sales reached an all-time high with 34,606 orders and shipments worth an estimated $1.9 billion, according to a Robotic Industries Association report.
But along with all that growth, the industry developed an image problem.
Bob Doyle, director of communications at the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), says there’s a constant tide of media stories about how robots are taking people’s jobs. A3 fields media requests on a near-daily basis, sticking up for automation and sharing stories about how it’s helped companies and the larger economy.
To that end, A3 launched the “Why I Automate” video series in 2014, which interviews organizations—ranging from Widmer Brothers Brewing to the National Institutes of Health—and shares their stories on how automation has enabled them to meet demands, fuel growth, hire more employees, and optimize productivity.
“Jobs are certainly transforming,” Doyle says, but he argues that automation isn’t taking jobs—rather it’s creating better ones. Doyle cites a recent A3 whitepaper that reports that as robot sales increased over the last five years, unemployment rates decreased.
But that good news for workers also poses a problem for some A3 members. “When we talk to our member companies, their biggest challenge is finding qualified people for the jobs they have open today,” Doyle says.
When we talk to our member companies, their biggest challenge is finding qualified people for the jobs they have open today.—Bob Doyle, Association for Advancing Automation (A3)
In addition to combating anti-automation sentiment from the media and the public, A3 is working to illustrate the technology’s benefits to small- and medium-size companies. They’re a tough audience because of their negative preconceptions about automation, but, Doyle says, “once it’s brought in, they realize that it’s just a tool to help them improve and allows them to grow.”
Recently, A3 has hosted webinars and posted success stories on its website about small and mid-size companies that have made the transition to automation. And at its Automate tradeshow in April, A3 made sure that collaborative and autonomous-mobile robots—ideal for the smaller spaces and budgets these companies have—were on the expo hall floor. The goal is to show these companies that using robotics will keep them competitive in the global marketplace.
In the meantime, A3 will continue countering the popular narrative from “the prognosticators that talk about this jobless future,” Doyle says.
“One thing that I don’t think that we’re really good at is predicting the future. Who would have thought 15 years ago—or even 10 years ago—that [we’d have] the number of app developers there are today,” he says. “There are over 10,000 jobs with people just focused on developing autonomous vehicles. Those jobs didn’t even exist five years ago or 10 years ago.”
ACT: The App Association
To say the mobile app industry is booming is an understatement. The Apple App store boasts close to 2 million apps, while the Google Play Store has more than 2.2 million. And Gartner predicts that mobile app revenue will reach $77 billion this year.
“The move to mobile has been the fastest adoption of technology in the history of mankind,” says Morgan Reed, executive director of ACT: The App Association. “People have adopted mobile phones faster than fire, the wheel, the microwave, or electricity.”
Unfortunately, a workforce of developers and programmers hasn’t kept pace with this accelerated move toward mobile.
“It’s clear that a lot of Americans are really hurting for high-opportunity, high-quality jobs,” Reed says. “Yet, in the tech industry … we have 250,000 unfilled positions with an average salary of greater than $92,000 a year.”
And despite the impression that all app programmers wear hoodies and live in Silicon Valley, large numbers of tech jobs are located throughout the country, especially in the Southeast’s financial services industry and the Midwest’s insurance sector, according to ACT's 2016 State of the App Economy report.
ACT says the app industry is facing a talent shortfall due to inadequate K-12 computer science education. “Right now, it’s easier for a student to find a class in AP Latin than it is to find one in AP computer science,” Reed says.
In response, ACT cofounded the Computer Science Education Coalition in March 2016 with a host of businesses and nonprofits, including Amazon, Code.org, Facebook, and more. Its advocacy efforts center on getting Congress to pass legislation that would invest $250 million in K-12 computer science education.
While working to support the rise of a robust workforce, ACT has also been helping to pave the way for new jobs and technology advancements in the healthcare sector. Its Connected Health Initiative, for instance, is dedicated to modernizing regulations that ACT says restrict technology applications in healthcare. Along with committee members like the American Medical Association and George Washington University, ACT is advocating for the use of connected technologies that will help improve the health of consumers and patients.
“We see the opportunities everywhere. Just look at the devices in everyone’s pocket and on everyone’s wrist,” Reed says. “So how do we educate the talent to build it, how do we improve the physical and regulatory infrastructure to support it, how do we do it in a way that is private and secure? Those are the questions that we have to answer. We are hopeful that the government will either be a partner where it needs to be or get out of the way when that’s the best alternative.”
Girl Scouts of the USA
New York City
In 1912—eight years before women could vote—Juliette Gordon Low founded the Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) to “prepare girls to meet their world with courage, confidence, and character.”
More than a century later, Low’s charge includes getting girls to better engage with science, technology, education, and math (STEM).
“Despite the progress women have made in STEM, girls still receive unspoken messages that STEM is not for them,” says Suzanne Harper, GSUSA’s STEM strategy lead. “At school, they may notice that boys are called upon more often in STEM classes. When they see scientists, engineers, or computer programmers in the news or as characters on TV or in movies, they’re often men.”
Girls' confidence gets a boost when they can point to a robot they built and say, 'I did that.'—Suzanne Harper, Girl Scouts of the USA
To change the discourse, GSUSA has partnered with respected organizations like the National Science Foundation, AT&T, Google, Dell, and others to connect girls with mentors and give them exposure and hands-on experience in everything from robotics to energy conservation.
“Hands-on learning is one of the best ways to learn STEM, for both boys and girls,” Harper says. “Girls enjoy doing projects that give them practical experience and the satisfaction of doing something in real life. Not only do hands-on activities spark their interest, but girls’ confidence gets a boost when they can point to a robot they built or an experiment they completed and say, ‘I did that.’”
The initiative also is helping to breakdown stereotypes. A recent study by the Girl Scout Research Institute found that girls who participated in STEM programs developed a “more equitable perception of the relative abilities of men and women in STEM.”
There’s more for girls to learn than just coding. E-commerce is another part of the STEM pie, so in 2014, GSUSA launched “Digital Cookie”—an online version of its iconic annual cookie fundraiser—for scouts to get experience creating a website, individualizing their sales pitches, and running their cookie businesses online.
Initiatives like these are “preparing girls to be leaders in the high-tech, fast-paced, e-commerce world of today,” Harper says.
GSUSA also offers STEM-related badges—like its Computer Expert badge for Brownies and an Entertainment Technology badge for Juniors—to scouts who have completed all of the required tech activities. This fall, the organization will roll out another wave of STEM-focused programs.
STEM programming is now a fixture in GSUSA, but it comes alongside a whole host of other programs—all designed to give girls the tools they need to discover their own personal passions.
“We hope to see more women using the leadership skills they’ve learned in Girl Scouts to change the world in any area they choose and in ways both big and small,” Harper says.
[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "Future Focus."]
Charles Eaton, executive vice president of social innovation at CompTIA, shares his insight into IT workforce challenges and potential solutions.
What does the IT job market look like right now?
It continues to be very strong. We’re seeing on average somewhere around 5,000 new IT positions every quarter. And, last year, we saw more than 2.5 million. It’s a huge number, and at some point, you’re just fighting with other companies for employees. We need to do more to build that pipeline, especially as there are going to be about 800,000 IT workers retiring in the next six to seven years.
At SXSW, you hosted a panel on solving the skills gap. What interesting ideas arose?
We had a small software development company that was tired of being unable to compete for talent just based on salary. They also heard from software developers with experience that they wanted something purposeful, so they developed an apprenticeship system as a way to provide mission and purpose.
What initiatives does CompTIA have in the works?
One is called NextUp, and it is our effort to define the secret sauce in what would make a young person interested in pursuing continuing education toward a tech career. The research we did tells us that middle schoolers are dreamers, and we need to hit them at that moment, but you can’t just hit them with “Here’s a tech job.” It’s got to be through abstraction, hands-on projects, and it’s got to be with a mentor who shares why they love what they do—not about what they do, but why they love what they do.