W.Va. work force needs more people with coding and cybersecurity skills, speakers say

By JIM ROSS

The State Journal

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — About 150 people gathered at the West Virginia Technology Park on Thursday to hear speakers talk about the need to train more young people and unemployed people in the fields of computer coding and cybersecurity.

During a break, Bernard McKay, right, chief policy officer for Intuit, talks with an attendee at the Coding/Cyber Summit in South Charleston Thursday.
(State Journal by Jim Ross)

“Work force development is essential for economic growth,” said Bernard McKay, chief policy officer for Intuit, in his opening remarks for the conference. “Two-year degrees, one-year degrees, certificate programs, training boot camps — these matter.”

In his audience were some students and teachers from Pocahontas County High School who were on their way to acquiring the skills McKay was talking about. In a room near where the conference was held, the students had a display of games and other coding-related activities they worked on.

About three or four years ago, students asked for a computer science or coding class at the school, said Laurel Dilley, a math teacher at Pocahontas County High School.

Dilley said she agreed to teach a class, but she needed to learn the subject quickly, so she took an online training course through Delaware State University.

Dilley said she is continuously updating her own skills in the subject.

“We learn everything together,” she said. “I’m going home every night and trying to stay one step ahead of the kids.

“Everybody has to step up and do it for these kids or they’re going to be left behind.”

Pocahontas County High School is in the third year of its coding class, Dilley said. The first year it was open only to seniors, and 10 of the school’s 60 seniors took it, she said. It’s now open to all students, and 18 are enrolled, she said.

“I’d say 40 percent of the kids who have taken the class in the past two years are either majoring or minoring in computer science in college,” she said.

McKay said the K-12 education system must become a feeder system for higher-level training in technology.

“K through 12 is the foundation of everything,” he said.

Using the example of Intuit, McKay said the United States needs to increase its focus on STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — education, but also needs to add the “A” for art to make it STEAM if students are to learn to be problem solvers.

Innovation requires creativity, problem-solving and design skills, all of which a study of art provides, he said.

Obed D. Louissaint, vice president of human resources for IBM Cognitive Solutions, Digital and Research, said in his talk that technology jobs will require something other than the traditional divide between white-collar and blue-collar work. He called it “new collar” work.

“We have opportunities that are available, but not the right skills,” Louissaint said.

Employers in the tech industry won’t be looking degrees as much as they are for people who have the right skills at the right time, he said. That will include people with college degrees who have been re-skilled, and it will include people without degrees but who have the skills that are needed, he said.

West Virginia’s two U.S. senators were also among those who spoke at the conference. “Cyber and coding and high tech are the future of our state,” said Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. She said STEM education will train students in logic, assimilating information and decision-making.

Also, broadband internet service must be deployed throughout the state to give young people the opportunity to work on their skills at home, she said.

Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., likewise pointed to the lack of statewide broadband access as something that hinders development of the work force.

“It’s basically putting your values and your priorities in sync,” he said.

Cybersecurity is important because other nations are waging a new Cold War against the United States through hacking, said Manchin, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

He said technology training must begin in the early years of school.

“If we’re going to wait until they get in high school to train them, we’ve missed a whole generation,” Manchin said.

Staff Writer Jim Ross can be reached at 304-395-3483 or email at [email protected]

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