Is Education Getting a Failing Grade When It Comes to Teaching Tech Skills?



At a recent panel discussion produced by Digital.nyc, tech entrepreneurs Jake Schwartz, Hagos Mehreteab, Jayana Johnson and Kristen Titus discussed how traditional educational programs are failing students when it comes to teaching technology and the skills necessary for the workplace. The backdrop of their discussion was whether technology is actually changing and reshaping educational programs, or merely supplementing traditional methods.

The issue was first addressed by Jake Schwartz, CEO and co-founder of General Assembly, a company that provides courses and workshops on coding. He started by talking about the advancements of teaching methods and the value of databases that provide easy access to information, and how, while college and schools will never be obsolete, they can certainly benefit from an overhaul that integrates technology into their curricula.

Since colleges have such diverse and often bloated curriculum, often the jobs that students get after graduation do not justify the huge expenditure. In other words, the cost to benefit ratio is too low. If the degrees could be made to work the other way round – from the job to the degree – it would be a more streamlined process, whereby technology has a real scope for changing the education system.

Technological changes exceeding the updates in education

Hagos Mehreteab, Head of Organizational Engineering, Codecademy, added that the rate of change in technology far surpasses the change in the curriculum of degrees, which is probably where the problems begin. When a student starts a four-year program, the curriculum set at the beginning is already behind the times by the time the person has graduated, making it harder to get a job at technology companies.

Jayana Johnson, a broadcasting major who is a Fellow at the five-month boot camp under the NYC Tech Talent Pipeline program, said, “By the time I graduated, almost everything I had learned during my degree were outdated.” Her peers agreed, and they all feel that the new technology-based curriculum is far more efficient at teaching concepts. It will even reduce the timeframe for learning from years to months. Schwartz also added that the traditional Computer Science degree is too bloated, with the focus being more on theories of coding rather than the much-needed focus on actual app development.

The NYC Tech Talent Pipeline Program

Kristen Titus, founding director of the NYC Tech Talent Pipeline, provided some insights into her program. She mentioned that the program was designed to disentangle the mess created by the employers’ expectations of a technology-centric employee and the potential employees’ skills. The solution, according to her, is to tailor programs to employers’ needs first, and then move up from there. Techtalents are what employers rely on,but technology companies are not getting the people with the skill sets that they require.

Microsoft is one of the companies that has already partnered with the NYC Tech Talents Pipeline to open a “Tech Jobs Academy.” Created in association with the CUNY, the academy aims to build skilled software engineers for the 3000 partner companies. Besides, the curriculum developed in this program would eventually be used to tailor programs for other schools across USA.

Finding the right skill sets: starting from the elementary stages

While technology companies require people with all kinds of skill sets, right now software engineers offer those skills necessary to actually build the tools that will be used and/or sold by the companies in the long term.

Johnson discussed how she had reached a balance in her own life by supplementing her communication degree with technology know-how. Mehreteab suggested that in order to tackle this issue,which is being faced by thousands of professionals across all disciplines, we need to have a bottom-up approach. Society has always trained children to skills necessary for traditional careers, and that has affected rather newer and less conventional job sectors, such as tech, leaving them with talent shortages.

There arecolleges that offer some introductory courses on computer science to students, no matter what specific disciplines they may be pursuing –  which makes many more students later make it their major. But the long-term plan is to take everything down to the elementary levels.

The hiring policies of the employers need to change, too. The junior level employees with technological knowledge are not hard to find, but it is the trained and skilled professionals with dynamic learning styles who eventually lead the tech sectors. Companies had previously invested in long-term training programs, but this is changing into a constant mentorship model that is always available to anyone. But to do all these, there needs to be open communication. After all, companies need a lot of skilled employees, but have no idea how to target the right people.

From the employee side, Mehreteab stressed that while traditional CVs are good, having public repositories of code and project portfolios speak better about a candidate’s abilities and qualifications. Ultimately, the candidate’s skills need to stack up well for the job, and only then will he or she be able to build a career in this sector.


Image credit: Digital.NYC

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