university-level courses widely available, has not yet tackled the technician shortage. The online competency
based module (OCBM) is closer to the
mark and a growing number of companies are offering them. 6 As these
technologies mature, more people will
be able to get online training and be
certified in a new skill set. With support from their employers, workers
can also use these technologies for
their continuing education.
The MOOC and OCBM demonstrate
that not even the education process is
exempt from automation. Before long,
students whose only current choice is
to enroll in a university may choose
instead to enroll in a two-year college
or a private company that offers such
training. This could displace university faculty by depleting the flow of students seeking enrollment in college.
No one is immune from automation of
their jobs anymore.
1. Charette, R. Is there a US IT worker shortage? IEEE
Spectrum (Sept. 3, 2013); http://spectrum.ieee.org/
2. Denning, P. J. and Frailey, D. Who are we now?
Commun. ACM 54, 6 (June 2011), 27–30.
3. Gordon, E.E. Future Jobs: Solving the Employment and
Skills Crisis. ABC-CLIO, 2013.
4. Government Technology. US cyber command looks to
fill 6000 jobs. (Oct. 2, 2014); http://www.govtech.com/
5. Thibodeau, P. IBM cuts pay by 10% for workers picked
for training. Computerworld (Sept. 15, 2014). http://
6. Weise, M. and Christensen, C. Hire Education:
Mastery, Modularization, and the Workforce
Revolution. Christensen Institute (2014); http://www.
Peter J. Denning ( email@example.com) is Distinguished
Professor of Computer Science and Director of the
Cebrowski Institute for information innovation at the
Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, is Editor
of ACM Ubiquity, and is a past president of ACM. The
author’s views expressed here are not necessarily those of
his employer or the U.S. federal government.
Edward E. Gordon ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is president
of Imperial Consulting, a Chicago-based firm that advises
corporations, educational institutions, workforce boards,
government agencies, and trade associations on talent
development and education reform. His is the author of
Future Jobs: Solving the Employment and Skills Crisis
(Praeger, 2013) and has been featured in the Wall Street
Journal, New York Times, The Futurist, the PBS NewsHour,
the CBS Network’s Early Show, and CNN.
Copyright held by authors.
Yet there are worrisome reports
that this principle is not widely accepted. An IBM division recently
declared it would reduce salaries of
employees by 10% for a six-month
period while they were receiving
training. 5 The training was needed
to maintain their qualifications for
their future jobs. For IBM, this is a
sharp break from its own history of
supporting education and professional development of its people. We
understand that other IT industries
are considering similar policies of
“cost sharing” for required training.
Such policies would be disastrous if
they became widespread.
Another worrisome aspect is that
many companies are not investing in
R&D, equipment, and training, which
all affect their long-term future. Many
are plowing their cash into stock buy-backs and some are going into debt to
do so. The Economist (Sept. 13, 2014)
said: “In 2013 38% of [U.S.] firms paid
more in buy-backs than their cash-flows could support, an unsustainable
position. Some American multinationals with apparently healthy global
balance sheets are, in fact, dangerously lopsided. They are borrowing heavily at home to pay for buy-backs while
keeping cash abroad to avoid America’s high corporate tax rate.” Financial
Times listed six major IT companies in
the top 10 engaged in buy-backs. The
policy climate is drawing companies
into short-term decisions that do not
align with their long-term interests.
Finding the Way Out
Education is the key to opening a path
for people to move from a displaced
position into a technician position
that would give them productive work
and a chance at rising pay, while easing joblessness and blunting the inequality between the IT elite and the
rest of the workforce. Colleges and
universities will not be of much help
in the short run because they do not
see themselves as part of the “
training” side of education.
One promising means is a new kind
of organization called Regional Talent Innovation Networks (RETAINs). 3
They are non-profit intermediaries
that link K– 12 schools, two-year colleges, community colleges, and work-place-based training and education.
Their goal is to produce well-educated
STEM talent to support a technology-driven economy. Examples include
High School, Inc. in Santa Ana, CA; the
Vermillion Advantage in Danville, IL;
the New North in northeastern Wisconsin; New Century Careers in Pittsburgh, PA; and the Steinbeck Cluster
in Salinas, CA. There are more than
1,000 RETAINs across the U.S. and
around the world.
RETAINs are particularly attractive
to small business owners because they
offer a viable way of pooling their resources in joint programs that will inform, attract, and prepare skilled workers for IT and other growing regional
industries. RETAINs link regional
employers, educational institutions,
and other community organizations
together as a collaborative network,
thereby reducing the individual company’s investment in employer-provid-ed education and training. RETAINs
promote a more positive overall regional business culture of sharing
rather than stealing workers from each
other. We think RETAINs will play a key
role in the reeducation of workers displaced by digital automation.
Another promising means is the
career academy. These high schools
blend a stronger liberal arts curriculum with specific practical career
education courses and internship
experiences. Over 2,500 comprehensive career academies are already operating. Many are stand-alone learning communities within larger high
schools. Some are stand-alone career
high schools in health care, IT, and
various STEM areas.
Because the demand for sub-bachelor skills is so obvious, private entrepreneurs have been starting businesses to provide inexpensive online
training. The MOOC, which makes
the basis of
skills in IT.