Wicker Shares Mississippi Efforts to Develop Tech Workforce, Close Broadband Gaps

May 16, 2018

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, yesterday chaired a hearing to consider the state of the mobile application economy and ways for Congress to support the development of the industry.

“In addition to prioritizing the deployment of broadband infrastructure, workforce development is critical to growing the app economy,” Wicker said. “Maintaining a trained and skilled workforce will help meet industry needs and ensure that the United States remains a leader in the global digital economy.”

Wicker invited Mike Forster, chairman of the Innovate Mississippi board, to share how the Mississippi Coding Academies have helped to close the technology skills gap in Mississippi and to connect students to employers looking to hire entry-level programmers and coders.

“There are a lot of highly motivated young people, who for various reasons, mostly socioeconomic, who are not able to attend a two- or four-year college,” Forster said. “Yet, many of them have the basic analytical and creative skills to become coders, and those jobs will ensure them wages that are equivalent to what many college graduates are going to get.”

Wicker asked Forster about the ability of Innovate Mississippi and the Mississippi Coding Academies to cut through the red tape that can prevent government programs from responding quickly to the needs of the private sector.

“We must start with the employer,” Forster said. “They must be engaged with us. They must set the curriculum. We don’t want to be teaching what the technologies were 10 years ago, or even 5 or even 2 years ago.”

Wicker also asked Morgan Reed, president of ACT – The App Association, about the problem of broadband connectivity in rural areas.

Reed noted that 27.8 percent of all Mississippians do not have access to broadband internet, including more than 50 percent of the population in rural areas.

“The problem we have with a state like Mississippi, is that when he [Forster] trains a good coder, if they go home and they don’t have broadband, then how are my people going to hire him?” Reed said.

Wicker has been challenging the Federal Communications Commission to improve the quality of its data collection and mapping of service coverage to help accelerate the delivery of broadband to the areas that need it most.

Other witnesses at today’s hearing included:

•           Roger Koch, Chief Executive Officer, Shield Group Technologies; and

•           Dr. Sarah Oh, Research Fellow, Technology Policy Institute