Technology companies have a new ethical responsibility on their hands: training and retaining the next generation of great innovators, especially if we want big things to happen in tech development in the future.

I am sure many of you have already heard of Google’s recently announced Career Certificate Program. The premise here is students can earn the equivalent to a four-year degree in about six months. The courses are taught by Google employees and currently include fields such as IT support specialist, data analytics, project management, and user experience design. Google promises to connect students with more than 50 different employers including the likes of Walmart, Bank of America, and more.

The reality is while this seems like an innovative concept, it is not. Google is just repacking the concept of a trade school, which first emerged back in 1879 when Calvin M. Woodward was appointed the director of the newly formed school, the St. Louis Manual Training School of Washington University. This set into motion the Trade School Movement, which saw the first school to offer specific trade training with supplementary studies in 1881, with the New York Trade School founded by Colonel Richard Tylden Auchtmuty.

Still, as we all know, when technology companies get their hands around a concept like this one, disruption is likely to follow. We are at a crossroads with our education right now. Between the 2007/2008 school year and the 2017/2018 school year, prices for undergraduate tuition, fees, room, and board at public institutions rose 31%. In contrast, private nonprofit schools rose 23%, after inflation, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Prices are skyrocketing.

As this is happening, enrollment is falling. The amount of fall enrollment in postsecondary institutions was 26% higher in 2007 than 1997, while there was only an 8% increase between 2017 and 2007. If we look at the numbers a little bit deeper, we see between 2007 and 2010, there was still a 15% increase, but between 2010 and 2017, there was actually a 6% decrease in fall enrollment. No wonder universities are raising their prices at rates faster than ever before.

This is presenting us with an interesting dichotomy. If you look at how our young generations learn today, something isn’t going to add up in five to 10 years. The traditional education model doesn’t fit our up and coming generation.

We are no doubt going to see the rise of screens to educate our youth—and our youth is going to come to expect it. Gen Z—or Screeners as I like to call them—is currently in school and has come of age during a shelter-in-place crisis. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a child received little or no supervision for several hours, as parents tried to work. (Look for more about the generations discussion and Sustainability in my new book coming shortly)

Today, they are spending an inordinate amount of hours on a screen such as a phone, tablet, or computer. On average this generation receives their first smartphone at the age of 10, and a study released in October from App Annie shows 98% of Gen Z owns a smartphone already. They also control an estimated spending power of $143 billion annually and they influence an estimated $600 billion in spending. These individuals are digital natives, as they have experienced the internet as part of their everyday lives since the moment they were born.

What comes next, I predict is disruption. Google already sees the opportunity. Others are soon going to follow. But I want to take the opportunity to challenge the technology industry that we have an obligation to train and retain these young innovators in a way that will support long-term technology development. Are you in?

Want to tweet about this article? Use hashtags #IoT #sustainability #AI #5G #cloud #edge #futureofwork #infrastructure #digitaltransformation #education