Addressing the tech skills gap at K-12 level
Tuesday, March 24, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic and its social distancing consequences have taught us that online education and soft skills will be integral parts of education going forward. As schools rapidly switch from classrooms to e-learning modes, students are learning how to interact and collaborate on projects that they would do in person.
At this point, no one is sure how long the quarantine will last, but schools are focused on continuing education efforts and coming up with innovative ways to keep students engaged. Touching upon areas like soft skills and encouraging an exploration in computer education makes for a great start.
A new survey conducted by K12 Inc.'s Destinations Career Academies shows that the skills gap is harming American businesses' bottom lines. Unless we act now, it will continue to be a drain on resources over the next decade. Ninety-four percent of the respondents, all of whom were human resources decision-makers, pointed out that the lack of qualified candidates, especially regarding qualified IT talent, is impacting business growth.
With reeling student debts and more students choosing to pursue alternate higher education options, 85% of the respondents said that companies no longer prioritize college degrees when hiring. Instead, 2 in 3 HR decision-makers want K-12 schools to prepare students for careers after graduation. Apart from IT related skills, they want students to learn about work ethic and soft skills such as communication and teamwork.
If the K-12 curriculum incorporates these and starts training the next generation of the workforce, then the inadequate skills issues looming over the American economy may be contained.
Companies are also willing to invest in these curricula or offer apprenticeships and internships to prepare high school students for careers. They are more inclined to hire students who have the right skills instead of someone with many degrees under the belt and no work experience.
This shifting of focus from college education to skills training will be a significant differentiator in the coming years. Career readiness education programs will begin to take precedence over an expensive college education. Better skills training in middle school and high school will be critical to address the skills gap. The K-12 education system should include more project-based learning and workplace experience options as a part of the broader conversation about students' futures.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has stated that the employment of computer and information technology occupations is expected to grow 12% from 2018 to 2028.
According to Code.org, there are 633,501 open jobs in computing, but only 61,642 students graduated from computer science programs and joined the workforce last year.
Two states that are making great strides in this regard are Rhode Island and North Dakota. Both states have partnered with Microsoft and Code.org to bridge the workforce skills gap. Rhode Island's CS4RI program is designed to expand K-12 computer science education and help the state develop other skills that matter in the tech-driven economy of the future.
Under the Microsoft program, computer science engineers connect with students by co-teaching and creating sustainable computer science programs that teachers can carry on independently. Rhode Island also has dedicated funding for teachers to take classes in computer science, which is a big boost to the process.
In North Dakota, Microsoft and Code.org are working to develop K-12 computer and cybersecurity science standards, including developing new degrees and apprenticeship opportunities in these fields for students. Providing training and resources for our students in these essential areas will prepare them for the workforce and benefit businesses and the economy as a whole.
Other states that have shown leadership in computer science education include Arkansas and Washington. The former has worked hard to align state policies with K-12 funding to support computer science education.
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