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Building the Next Generation Technology Workforce

By Dr. Adriana Bankston, Chief Outreach Officer at the Journal of Science Policy & Governance (JSPG)

March 2021

Technology is all around us and holds much promise for positive impacts on society. Fostering responsible and ethical engagement of students, postdocs, and early career scholars with technology is critical to the development of a workforce with the ability to address societal challenges and act in order to serve the public good.

Providing the necessary technology education

Training a technology-savvy workforce requires exposing the next generation to fundamental principles of technology development through coursework that is substantial and relevant to today’s largest societal challenges. Understanding the ethical implications of the hottest technology topics, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, quantum computing, 5G, and cybersecurity (1), can provide students, postdocs, and early career scholars with a broader perspective, and enable them to influence society with their innovative technology ideas.

However, in order to achieve holistic training for the next generation of technologists at all levels in the education sector, solid classroom knowledge of these topics will not be sufficient (2). Universities should engage with funding agencies, as well as with policymakers, in order to develop interdisciplinary programs by which students, postdocs, and early career scholars may apply their technical knowledge to real-world problems.

Impacting technology at the government level

Equipping the next generation with the necessary tools to influence society requires substantial federal government funding for impactful research projects, in addition to providing the necessary infrastructure for students, postdocs, and early career scholars to develop innovative research directions. In this manner, government-funded science can speed up commercialization of existing technologies within universities (3), as well as help fuel technological innovations of the future to advance society forward.

In addition to government funding, focusing on effective policymaking can be another powerful way to influence technology development for the public good on a global scale. However, given the rapid pace of technological advancements across the globe, policymakers need to be well informed and understand several facets of technology for which to devise policies (4). Painting a realistic picture of the promise of technology, as well as its potential shortcomings for policymakers, and having this come from knowledgeable constituents is critical for the development of policies that can address major societal challenges, which depend on technological advancement in a timely and cost-effective manner.

Technology ethics and societal inequalities

Therefore, in order to develop a digitally-literate society, it is critical that we engage students, postdocs, and early career scholars in training in order to understand responsible ways to enact innovation and fully grasp the ethical considerations related to their technology research projects and applications in society (5). This includes addressing issues such data privacy, algorithmic bias, accountability, and job automation, which are often part of tech-ethics courses within universities (6).

In addition to the educational aspects related to technology development, technology itself can both highlight societal inequalities, and present opportunities for leveling the playing field by increasing access and affordability across the globe. The current pandemic has broken down some of the existing geographical and societal barriers, leading to increased global interconnectivity. It has also provided opportunities to mitigate some of these inequalities by enabling certain populations to take advantage of newly created digital opportunities (7).

However, given the dependence of the educational sector on technology, we cannot ignore the fact that the pandemic has widened the socioeconomic gap as it relates to training the next generation in both fundamental concepts and applied tools for technology use. As students, postdocs, and early career scholars are forced to attend courses virtually (outside of the traditional classroom setting), certain groups, such as low-income students, are at a disadvantage. Their families may not be able to afford the bills that come with having constant access to high-speed internet, teleconferencing software, and other computer platforms necessary for receiving an adequate education.

In addition to income-related issues, the pandemic has also exacerbated racial disparities in relation to technology use. Certain ethic groups may not be able to receive the same type of online education. Therefore, groups that are already underrepresented have even more of a disadvantage by having to conduct their entire education through the internet. School libraries could potentially offer discounted subscriptions to e-books and educational software, and internet providers can also accommodate these disparities by offering packages that several groups can afford in order for the next generation to take advantage of online training.

The technology ecosystem

However, even with mitigating some of these disparities with technology use, overall across the globe, increased technology access is still increasing, causing the responsibility to train the next generation to use technology for the greater good to become more apparent.

Therefore, the right type of training should expand from students, postdocs, and early career scholars to educators, investors, and policymakers who can influence technology use for the next generation. In conclusion, the technology ecosystem should center on the next generation, the values we have instilled in them when it comes to using technology in an ethical manner, and ways that provide increased access to technology for many different populations around the globe.

Conclusion

The future belongs to our youth, and we must empower them to utilize technology responsibly and ethically, in a manner that fosters equity across the globe. It is up to all of us to contribute to this goal within a highly interdependent technology ecosystem. Engagement of technology practitioners and influencers with the next generation is therefore critical for advancing our society forward in a manner that is driven by youth and capitalizes on the public good as our common direction.

 

References 

  1. Top 10 Digital Transformation Trends For 2021. Daniel Newman, Forbes, September 21, 2020.
  2. Designing Next-Generation Universities. Steven Mintz, Inside Higher Ed, April 19, 2016.
  3. Commercializing University Innovations: A Better Way. Robert E. Litan, Lesa Mitchell, E.J. Reedy, Brookings, May 15, 2007.
  4. We must bridge the gap between technology and policymaking. Our future depends on it, Bruce Schneier, World Economic Forum, November 12, 2019.
  5. Responsible development of new technologies critical in complex, connected world. Andrew Maynard, The Conversation, March 4, 2015.
  6. Fixing Tech’s Ethics Problem Starts in the Classroom. Stephanie Wykstra, The Nation, February 21, 2019.
  7. Beaunoyer, E., Dupéré, S., & Guitton, M. J. (2020). COVID-19 and digital inequalities: Reciprocal impacts and mitigation strategies. Computers in Human Behavior, 111. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2020.106424.

 

Dr. Adriana Bankston is passionate about empowering early career researchers to impact the policymaking process. Adriana is Chief Outreach Officer at the Journal of Science Policy & Governance (JSPG), a vehicle for early career researchers from all academic backgrounds to publish on science policy topics and bolster their research and writing credentials in science and technology policy. In addition to JSPG, Adriana serves as Co-Director of the Policy Taskforce at Future of Research (FoR), and is a Biomedical Workforce & Policy Research Investigator at the STEM Advocacy Institute (SAi). By day, Adriana is a Principal Legislative Analyst in the University of California (UC) Office of Federal Governmental Relations in Washington, DC.

 

Editor: 

Dr.Fatuma Hussein is working as a Security Analyst in “API Security and Governance” squad, Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), Toronto. She is leading the development and promotion of a new API and API development learning curriculum along with API security and governance duties. She is also leading the RBC- Academic Research Collaboration initiative and is responsible for promoting research culture at various RBC platforms. Dr. Hussain’s background includes a number of distinguished professorships at Ryerson University and the University of Guelph, Canada, where she has been awarded for her research teaching and course development accomplishments within Wireless Telecommunication, Internet of Things, and Machine Learning. She has a long list of research publications in top-tier conferences, books, and journals. She is acting as an Editor for IEEE WIE Newsletter (Toronto section).

Dr. Hussain holds Doctorate and Master of Science degrees from Ryerson University, Toronto in Electrical & Computer Engineering. She also holds a Master’s and Bachelors of Electrical Engineering from the University of Engineering & Technology, Lahore, Pakistan.