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Google CEO: Tech education should be more than just coding

Sundar Pichai warns that the next generation of workers will require continuous training in basic digital skills.

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
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Steven Musil
2 min read
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Coding is a vital component of tech education, but it won't be enough to sustain the next generation of workers.

With a rapidly evolving tech world, employees will require continuous training in basic digital skills, according to Sundar Pichai. The Google chief executive explains in an opinion piece published Thursday by NBC News THINK that the notion of getting a traditional education that will provide a lifetime of job skills is a remnant of yesteryear.

"With technology changing rapidly and new job areas emerging and transforming constantly, that's no longer the case," Pichai wrote. "We need to focus on making lightweight, continuous education widely available.

"While digital technology should be empowering people, it can often alienate them from their own jobs," he said.

Careers in tech are quickly overtaking the economy, with employment in science, technology, engineering or math occupations growing twice as fast as other occupations. STEM jobs grew by 10.5 percent between May 2009 and May 2015 compared with 5.2 percent in non-STEM jobs, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report in January 2017. 

Computer-related jobs were among the highest gains during that period, and are projected to increase by 12.5 percent from 2014 to 2024, the report found.

Pichai notes that workers today are required to have skills that scarcely existed five years ago, such as an administrative assistant needing to use online programs to run budgets, scheduling and accounting, among other tasks.

And he says these skills are much easier to learn than coding, pointing to $1 billion in new initiatives Google unveiled last year aimed at training and educating workers to help them find jobs and grow their businesses.

"Through these trainings, people learn about using technology to research, to plan events, analyze data and more," Pichai wrote. "They don't require a formal degree or certificate."

He also says he sees a "huge opportunity" to rethink training for other tech jobs that are vital to the digital economy but don't require knowledge in coding. One example he offered was IT support, the people who maintain the hardware and software that keep tech services humming.

"We should make sure that the next generation of jobs are good jobs, in every sense," Pichai wrote. "Rather than thinking of education as the opening act, we need to make sure it's a constant, natural and simple act across life -- with lightweight, flexible courses, skills and programs available to everyone."

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