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PROMOTES Act Is Essential to Giving STEM Access to Diverse Talent and Should be Included in the NDAA

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JROTC-DC-scaled.jpg Members of the Washington, DC area Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) joined the policy community at Intel to talk about their interest in computer science (Sept. 2019).

By Barbara Whye, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer and Vice President, Social Impact and Human Resources

Diversity and inclusion are essential to innovation, economic prosperity and equality. We must urgently increase access and provide opportunity to STEM training for diverse talent which is essential to recruitment and ultimately diversifying the workforce in the U.S. This includes taking steps to drive full inclusion and accessibility to the education resources needed to pursue careers in the technology field.

The introduction of the Providing Resources and Organization to Maximize Opportunities for Training and Education in STEM (PROMOTES) Act by Representatives Anthony Brown (D-MD), Michael Waltz (R-FL), Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), and Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), and Senators Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Gary Peters (D-MI) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) is an important step in that direction.

This bipartisan, bicameral legislation would authorize the Secretary of Defense to implement a grant program focused on increasing the training and education of Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields and should be included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2021.

The Junior ROTC program is an incredibly powerful way to diversify the future STEM workforce and fill the existing skills gap. Currently, many of the 500,000 secondary students enrolled in the Junior ROTC program are underrepresented minorities and over 40% are female. They are untapped technology talent. Solutions to our global challenges could reside in the palm of these talented students’ hands.

A newly launched pilot initiative supported by Intel, Microsoft, CapitalOne, Google, College Board and other companies, was created to jump start the Junior ROTC program. The CSforAll’s JROTC-CS demonstration initiative provides JROTC students with computer science and cybersecurity education programs during the upcoming school year. The PROMOTES Act, with full backing of the federal government and Department of Defense, would provide the reach necessary to really make an impact and decrease institutional barriers to entry in STEM fields.

STEM jobs are growing at 17 percent in comparison to other occupations that are growing at just 9.8 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. The stakes have never been higher, and the next generation of STEM innovators must be trained and supported in critical areas like cybersecurity, artificial intelligence (AI) and computer science.

Closing the skills gap begins with expanding the future technical workforce and increasing youth training and access to technology skills needed for current and future jobs. This legislation would enable critical funding for programs that will prepare the next generation of technologists with the skills and critical thinking needed to power future innovations.

Intel is committed to partnering with governments and communities to help bridge the digital divide and address the gap in access to STEM education over the next decade by making investments at critical intervention points. This includes engaging adolescents in interactive STEM activities. As part of our 2030 Corporate Responsibility Goals and Global Challenges, Intel aims to make technology fully inclusive and expand digital readiness by partnering with 30 governments and 30,000 institutions worldwide to empower more than 30 million people with AI skills training for current and future jobs. Through initiatives like the Intel® AI for Youth program, which empowers students to learn while creating their own social impact projects, Intel is working to advance diversity and expand opportunities for the next generation of technologists.

We know early intervention works. Intels $5 million, five-year partnership with the Oakland Unified School District in California demonstrates that with support and investment, schools can dramatically improve educational outcomes and encourage students to pursue further education and careers in STEM fields. Between 2015 and 2019, underrepresented minority students enrolled in computer science classes in the district increased 17x, and girls enrolled in computer science increased 33x.

Building a diverse and inclusive workforce and industry requires continued collective investments and innovative approaches to increasing diversity of the talent pipeline and expanding access. Congress has the opportunity to help grow a diverse, well-trained and inclusive next generation of STEM talent in the U.S. We urge the inclusion of the PROMOTES Act in the NDAA FY 2021 to help prepare students with critical STEM skills necessary for the advancement of the technology industry.