Why Tech Has a Shortage of Skilled Workers, and How to Fix This

A brief rundown on much more than just coding.

GUEST COLUMN | by Christine McDonnell

A massive skills gap in the technology industry is making it very difficult for companies who need workers, according to a 2017 report from TechRepublic. The tech industry specifically is having trouble finding superior talent.

The skills gap is most likely due to the need to build foundational skills as part of the education journey.

With more than a half-million open technology positions in the United States, research from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that by 2020, there will be a million more jobs available in computing than qualified applicants who can fill those roles.

The majority of today’s workforce didn’t have access to computer science education during their elementary, middle school, and even high school years.

In an effort to help close the void that these educational differences have caused, many programs have been created over to teach adults foundational computer science skills, in turn helping them land jobs in fields that desperately need workers.

While this does work, it is not working quickly enough to close the skills gap.

This problem seems to be so challenging because we’re tackling the issue of the skills gap in reverse.

While current adult education programs are a great asset to the workforce, it’s important that children, too, learn tech skills. Children are the future of our workforce, and by teaching them foundational skills at an early age, they will be better prepared with for the future of work.                                    

It is imperative that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) curriculum be supported and implemented to make students as successful as possible as they move throughout school, into college, and into the workforce.

The government has taken note of the need for STEM curriculum.

Legislators are trying to respond to needs of school districts nationwide although challenges to educational funding remain an issue. Currently, only six states provide all K-12 students access to computer science courses.  

Teach Tech Skills Young

If we are to combat this shortfall, learning STEM skills at an early age must be prioritized in the classroom. In-classroom computer science platforms work to build foundational workforce skills early. This helps plan for the future through education geared toward STEM and computer science, developing the skills in highest demand.

These proactive measures will ensure that students are engaged in learning opportunities that develop problem-solving and analytical skills to maximize their potential now and in the future. A solid foundation of computer science early in a student’s education process builds confidence in fundamental skills and core concepts.

Learning skills in computer science and coding instills resilience in students, as well as teaches skills like creative problem solving and successful failure.

With a progression of skills and continued use of computer science fundamentals, students build interest and a comfort level not only with tackling harder challenges as their education continues but with applying computer science concepts to other areas of study.

Engaged Learning

Utilizing an engaged learning model to build foundational skills in computer science and provide progressively challenging opportunities to enhance those skills are key elements to empowering educators to move computer science into the classroom.

Beginning at the foundational level, leveraging multiple pillars of instruction and incorporating project-based learning helps students build the STEM skills that are necessary. Understanding the language of computer science and how it is used across different kinds of technology platforms is a way for students to gain confidence in their knowledge and abilities.

The foundation built in their youth will help students build strong skills after primary education and into high school, college and their careers.

It’s Much More Than Coding

Computer science is often used synonymously with coding — but coding is only one aspect of computer science. Computer science encompasses foundational principles in problem-solving and analytics through software, hardware, and the safe and ethical use of technology.

Students learn in a variety of ways and computer science skills can be taught through many different methods of engagement. It is important that educational platforms take this into account.

Making sure that students learn the way that’s best for them is important to keep them interested in learning. Computer science is more than coding, and additional pillars like digital citizenship and hardware provide educators the tools to engage students of all learning styles.

Coding. This is the most common way to introduce students to computer science. It is a great way to engage visual, hands-on students with project-based learning and computational thinking behind a computer. Students build problem-solving and analytical skills through interactive learning experience with coding projects.

Hardware. Tactile, hands-on learners can learn core concepts by leveraging interactive, project-based hardware lessons. By allowing students to combine hardware exploration with computational thinking strategies, it reinforces computer science principles, which reaches students who might not have the same interest or curiosity solely working in front of a computer screen.

Time Away From the Screen. Computers are everywhere. Unplugged activities allow educators to engage students while taking a break from their screens. Encouraging students to look for and practice foundational computer science elements through creative activities creates additional methods to reinforce computer science principles. 

Ethical Responsibilities. As students learn to navigate the digital world, it’s imperative they understand how to be safe and active participants. By teaching digital citizenship, educators instill students with the foundational skills needed to safely navigate technology in their daily lives. With a focus on cyber ethics, cyber safety and other STEM initiatives, educated and engaged students will bring an informed and ethical background into the future of computer science and technology.

With a steady increase in demand for a tech-skilled workforce, our education system needs to prepare students to succeed in the future of the digital world.

That’s why many educators are combating this issue now, starting with finding a good partner to help accelerate computer science into the classroom, thus helping the students and the workforce that will soon be greeting them.

Christine McDonnell is CEO of Codelicious, a curriculum-as-a-service company building and delivering curriculum for schools to teach youths and teens computer science. Write to: info@codelicious.com

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