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A Shift Towards Alternative Education Models Is Key to Bridging Tech Skills Gap

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COVID-19 exacerbated the digital skills gap in the U.S. With traditional education becoming unattainable for many, alternative education and training models have proven to be a viable pathway for successful and long-term careers, especially in the tech industry.

The long-standing digital skills gap in the U.S. has been exacerbated at an alarming rate by the ongoing pandemic. A recent study by the National Skills Coalition found that nearly a third of American workers have limited to no digital skills, underscoring the scale of this issue and the emerging workforce crisis. More individuals now utilize alternative education and training models such as vocational academies and hands-on boot camps to gain relevant industry experience as more viable pathways for long-term careers.

Given the lower costs and tailor-designed curriculums centered around functional training to meet immediate employer needs, these alternative training models can be especially beneficial to young workers from marginalized communities who continue to have limited access to traditional educational models. When focused on STEM training, in particular, these models provide a critical pathway for many, who are structurally relegated, to finally achieve economic mobility with high-paying jobs across the technology sector and without the crippling debt burden concomitant with a four-year degree.

Addressing the Digital Skills Gap Within Tech

There are few areas in the tech sector where the skills gap is particularly acute and creates a growing workforce imbalance due to surging demand and a limited supply of engineers. These include infrastructure computing, edge computing, cloud computing, and critical support roles of DevOps and SRE. The shift to agile software development has increased the demand for software engineers, hybrid software/hardware, and infrastructure computing engineers. Over 55% of engineers now perceive cloud-based skills to be the most important of all.

Companies like Google and Apple are turning towards hands-on vocational academies and courses to educate and identify future talent. Despite these efforts, there are longstanding challenges in finding and retaining this talent. According to a DevOps Institute study, 58% of business leaders said finding skilled individuals is a major challenge, and 48% struggle to retain qualified DevOps employees.

Diversifying Innovative Industries

Aside from finding and retaining engineering talent, tech companies also struggle to hire, develop, and retain diverse talent, especially in technical roles. Research from Diversity in Tech shows that only 15% of tech professionals are black, Asian, or another ethnic minority. This surging demand for software and infrastructure/edge computing, especially with the rise of IoT and expanding untapped workforce from underserved communities, presents a critical challenge and opportunity for this country. 

By its very design, edge computing aims to increase the collective computing resources for a community using local peripheral machines such as home appliances, digital accessories, and even electric vehicles for low-latency computation. One would hope that this “democratization” of computing would not only benefit under-resourced communities but, more importantly, be architected by their very own brilliant members. 

Rebuilding an Agile Educational Model for the 21st Century

It stands to reason that the traditional college education model, which is ill-equipped to provide the functional training for employment in the digital economy, offers limited viable career pathways, especially for our underserved communities. Apple CEO Tim Cook underscored this growing educational and employment misalignment by stating that there is a “mismatch between the skills that are coming out of colleges and what the skills are that we believe we need in the future, and many other businesses do.” 

COVID-19 has fundamentally disrupted the technology sector’s economic model. This disruption, along with soaring costs of the four-year college education model, is ushering in new tech-centric education models, including vocational schooling.

A recent study by The Simple Dollar showed that average trade school programs cost $33,000, compared to $127,000 for the typical bachelor’s degree. This is a clear case for the economic benefits offered by these alternative models. Students taking advantage of these new models, especially in tech fields, can find meaningful employment over shorter time frames with much lower costs and higher returns based on equivalent or potentially higher earnings. 

As current and future administrations rightfully focus on rebuilding our nation’s physical infrastructure, they will also need to invest in building our digital infrastructure to monitor and mitigate climate change, stem the next pandemic, enhance logistics, accelerate medical discovery, and repulse cyberattacks. 

This will require a reimagining of how we are effectively training our future workforce. It will no longer entail learning about the Missouri compromise, the iambic pentameter, or the Krebs cycle. Instead, it will include learning how to trade solar energy from your backyard in Detroit to an elementary school in Managua and administer robotic-aided surgery as a physician in Austin to a child in Hanoi powered by a centrifuge in their remote clinic.

*Originalmente publicado por Sheldon Gilbert | 24 de março de 2021

Sheldon Gilbert is committed to excellence, innovation and equipping the future leaders of the tech industry with the necessary tools to succeed. After founding Proclivity Systems, a predictive analytics company and ad exchange platform, he saw there was a great opportunity and need to push for diversity within the tech industry. Inspired by his own experience and journey as an enterprise in tech, he founded Last Mile Talent, a non-profit software infrastructure engineer training and job placement program created to increase economic mobility in under-resourced communities by matching college students and recent graduates with high-demand jobs in cloud computing.

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