No one can deny the importance of technology in today’s world, and children, perhaps more than any of us, understand the need for digital literacy in order to connect with the world. But many of our schools are lagging behind in their ability to capitalize on youth digital skills. Only about 25 percent of K-12 schools offer computer science classes that include programming in the curriculum.
That's unfortunate, given the good tech-related jobs that exist in today's economy and the opportunities available to young people with the right skills. But it also poses a problem for those industries that depend on tech-savvy workers. We've reported on philanthropic investments by Silicon Valley companies like Google in initiatives that train young coders, but it turns out that at least one major bank, Capital One, is also giving in this space.
The philanthropic arms of banks are big backers right now of career readiness work, which makes sense given the reliance of these institutions on young entry level workers in urban areas who are often coming from diverse backgrounds and communities with sub-par schools. But banks have also a specific interest in bolstering the digital skills of young people, given the automation that's been sweeping this industry. Like so many sectors, banking is coming to depend more on fewer workers with various skills—the people who know how operate the machines that are taking over jobs once done by humans. (Manufacturing, by the way, is another area where workers with strong tech schools are becoming more critical as machines do more tasks and we've reported often on the giving of car companies to STEM education.)
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In 2014, Capital One launched a program called C1 Coders, to help address this learning gap, and get more middle schoolers interested in software engineering. The program exposes middle school students to the essential tools of touchscreens and motion detection and helps them learn the basics of digital control and coding.
Students participating in the C1 Coder program learn skills that enable them to develop their own apps using MIT University's App Inventor, engaging their own creative ideas to solve problems with the digital tool. Students have generated apps that perform diverse functions, such as one called Nutri-Tron, which identifies food allergens by scanning barcodes of packaged food.
C1 Coders is part of Capital One’s Future Edge Initiative which is investing $150 million over five years to help more workers prepare for the growing needs of the digital economy. Volunteers for Capital One recently held 10 weeks of educational sessions in 20 schools across the country, teaching 1,000 sixth-, seventh- and eighth- grade students about problem solving, teamwork and basic principles of software development. To date, over 2,500 students have participated in the C1 Coder program. As an added bonus, students who participated in Capital One’s C1 Coder program this year received a laptop at the closing ceremony.
Much of Capital One’s work in this digital-skills building arena occurred in concert with the Obama Administration’s TechHire Initiative, which has aimed to get more Americans prepared to participate in the digital workforce.