American companies face a unique challenge today. While unemployment is still at a high, many open jobs are unfilled because employers cannot find workers with the skills they need. Many of these unfilled jobs are in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields (STEM). To address the skill-gap that exists today, Microsoft is exploring the situation in a series of events spread across the country called “YouthSpark Connection”.

Recently, Dr. Heather Lattimer, department chair and associate professor at University of San Diego’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences and Andrew Ko general manager, U.S. Partners in Learning at Microsoft crafted an op-ed for the San Diego Union-Tribune to address the opportunity divide in San Diego and highlight some of the ways we can help local youth find success.  

Teaming Up to Help Youth Compete, Succeed

There is a staggering opportunity divide affecting young people in San Diego. Local youth are increasingly disconnected from today’s economy and need access to education and training, especially in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), to achieve full-time employment.

This week, at the Microsoft YouthSpark Connections event at USD, the Brookings Institution issued new research showing that too many San Diego youth do not have the education and skills they need to be successful in today’s economy. This Microsoft-sponsored research demonstrates in stark terms the divide in San Diego—1 in 4 young people are either not in school or in the workforce, which amounts to 40,000 unemployed San Diego youth who are in need of direction and opportunity. Meanwhile, a third of area job openings require a bachelor’s degree and a quarter requires some form of STEM education. 

The Brookings Institution research shows that the share of San Diego-area jobs with high concentrations in each of the STEM disciplines exceeds the national average, making it even more imperative that area youth gain skills in this area. In fact, approximately 25 percent of San Diego’s jobs are in STEM-focused fields.

There is hope, and the skills deficit can be overcome. To do so we must create new strategies and programs to educate and train youth in STEM fields. Microsoft, local educators like San Diego Unified, San Diego Community College District and the University of San Diego, along with non-profits like the Boys and Girls Clubs, are working together to create programs that give kids real-world access and training in STEM education. Microsoft is leading the way with Microsoft YouthSpark—an initiative to create 300 million opportunities for youth around the world over the next three years. In San Diego, this means the creation of a Technology Training Center for Youth in the South Bay and other training and mentorship programs through non-profit partners.

These types of partnerships extend the reach of our traditional educational institutions and reach at risk youth most prone to experiencing the opportunity divide. The issue of producing a modern workforce with the skills required for economic success isn’t unique to San Diego, but it is our community’s challenge to accept. Through partnerships with governments, nonprofit organizations, and businesses, YouthSpark provides youth with increased opportunities for education, employment, and entrepreneurship and the power to shape their professional and financial destiny. Microsoft also addresses the other critical part of the education equation – teachers – through our Partners in Learning Network, which offers training, support, peer collaboration and lesson plans to empower them to do their jobs.

Every one of our children is a success story in waiting, and we must act now to start writing the next chapter. By joining together, we can give young people access to the critical tools needed to cross the opportunity divide and reach their full potential. For more information, please visit www.microsoft.com/youthspark.

Heather Lattimer is department chair and associate professor at USD’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences. Andrew Ko is general manager, U.S. Partners in Learning/Microsoft.