The Seattle area is estimated to have more than 50,000 open tech-sector jobs. Sixty percent of our high schools don’t even offer introductory computer science classes.

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Ekampreet Kaur was born and raised in India but moved to the U.S. three years ago to finish her high school education. After finishing high school Kaur moved on to Highline College in Des Moines to study nursing — but there was a problem. Two quarters in, she hated it. She simply couldn’t see herself finishing the degree. But she didn’t know what else she should be studying that she might find more interesting.

That’s when a friend mentioned a program called Year Up, a year-long technical-skills training program that also provides connections with any of hundreds of companies, from GE to Salesforce to JPMorgan Chase & Co. “I wasn’t sure which path to choose, but Year Up helped me to find my interested path and to see myself on that path,” says Kaur, 20, who was hired as a software engineer at Microsoft after completing the Year Up program.

Kaur is an example of how the skills gap in our region plays out. The Seattle area is currently estimated to have more than 50,000 open tech-sector jobs, according to international relocation company CapRelo, and companies are struggling to fill them with local talent, as 60 percent of high schools in our area don’t even offer introductory computer science classes.

Kaur says she had no computer science exposure in high school and had never coded before her experience in Year Up. “Even in India in seventh grade when we worked with computers, we weren’t coding. I didn’t have any experience in it at all,” she says. “In the beginning it was a new thing for me, but I liked it. Now I love coding and debugging code and making websites and I love what I’m doing now.”

The skills gap problem isn’t just a local one, and it isn’t related just to jobs in the technology field. There are 7.3 million fewer jobs in the U.S. today for people with a high school degree or less than there were in 1989. And 6 million jobs in our country are going unfilled due in large part to a shortage of skilled workers.

Even though the skills gap isn’t just about the tech field, it has a lot to do with technology. Take the manufacturing field, for example. There is much hand-wringing about losing American manufacturing jobs to cheaper overseas labor, but the problem is more complex than that. There are actually many manufacturing jobs still in the country, approximately one million were added in the past seven years. And according to a study by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, an estimated 3.4 million manufacturing jobs will become available by 2025. The problem? It’s estimated that two million of those will go unfilled due to a skills gap. The same study found manufacturing executives rated 70 percent of current manufacturing employees as deficient in technology and computer skills.

Microsoft supports programs like Year Up, through funding and by hosting dozens of Year Up students, like Kaur, in their training. Yvonne Thomas, Director of Global Programs at Microsoft Philanthropies, focuses on how they can best support programs like this one that can address the growing skills gap in the changing needs of our workforce.

“Computing occupations are the No. 1 source of all new wages in this country, and some level of digital skill or computer science education will be critical for so many occupations, whether in health care, manufacturing or construction,” she says.

Programs like Year Up are one way to address the skills gap in a real, tangible way, but Microsoft focuses on several programs that expand exposure to computer science and digital skills to students even younger than the 18- to 24-year-old age range in Year Up. Examples of such programs include TEALS, where computer science professionals co-teach computer science classes in high schools; and a partnership with Boys & Girls Club that introduces computer science curriculum to clubs nationwide.

Thomas notes that early exposure will open student’s eyes to the opportunities that are out there, helping out folks like Kaur, who felt lost and stuck studying a field she wasn’t interested in but no idea what else she might study to take part in today’s workforce.

“So many kids don’t even know there are possible careers for them in technology. They aren’t even getting the opportunity to see that,” says Thomas.

And we’re not immune to all of this just because it might seem like our community is steeped in all things tech. In fact, says Thomas: “I think there’s a perception that Seattle is a tech community, so we’ve got this taken care of, but that’s not the reality. We are a technology leader as a community, and we need continue to make sure all our kids have equal access to those opportunities.”

Learn more about Year Up Puget Sound.