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Staying Ahead of Technology: Innovating on Education to Close the Technical Skills Gap

Adam Enbar, CEO of The Flatiron School

Guest blog post by Adam Enbar, CEO of The Flatiron School.  In the last several years, The Flatiron School has made a name for itself training passionate, creative students for careers in web and mobile development. The school maintains a 99% job placement rate at companies that employ technical talent, including Etsy, Boeing, and Google.

In the United States, there are currently half a million open “tech jobs,” and that number is only expected to grow over the next 10 years. These are good jobs—with reported median salaries of more than $90,000. The key to matching job-seekers of this and future generations with these positions lies solely in access to passionate teachers and a relevant technical education.

To this end, new educational models are created every day. In general, there are four ways new models can help students get the skills they need to succeed. They can help more people access technical training, align their curriculum with the realities of today’s job market, inspire K-12 students with the power and potential of technology, and aim to improve people’s lives through education.

Expanding Access to Education

Half the challenge of encouraging people to pursue a technical education is increasing access to education in general. As the cost of higher education rises at a record pace, an increasing number of people are being left out of the opportunity to pursue any sort of advanced skill training.

The success of the GI Bill underscores the need for a larger idea of what it means to obtain an education. People come from different backgrounds and learn differently. As educators, we should accommodate these differences and advocate for more options for learning. As employers, we should do the same—more accessible education means a more skilled labor force and a more diverse talent pool.

Over recent years, government at all levels has stepped in to remedy this problem. In his 2015 State of the Union, President Obama outlined a plan to provide free Community College education to anyone who needs it. At the local level, New York City’s Tech Talent Pipeline initiative, which kicked off with the NYC Web Development Fellowship, offers free, outcomes-oriented technical training to low income New Yorkers without a college degree.

Bringing Code to High School

Expanding access to technical education also means teaching critical technical skills to younger age groups. In a time when technology is fundamentally changing how we live, fluency in programming skills has become a new kind of literacy. Without significant investment in technology training at younger ages, we risk falling behind countries like England, who’ve mandated Computer Science as a basic high school graduation requirement.

Further, as the technology industry struggles to increase diversity among its workforce, exposing a broader range of students to the field, at a younger age, becomes increasingly critical. To inspire our youth to become leaders in tech and to ensure the future competitiveness of our country, we must show students the power and potential of technology well before they submit their college applications.

While school districts across the country are expanding their acceptance of Computer Science as satisfying a core graduation requirement, one the biggest challenges they face is finding teachers qualified to deliver the relevant curricula. In the wake of this demand, innovative programs have emerged to fill the gap., a national nonprofit, recently partnered with the City of Chicago to provide Computer Science Training for nearly 200 K-12 teachers. Likewise, Flatiron School’s Pre-College Program has partnered with Teach for America to train high potential instructors in Computer Science Education.

Our Pre-College students have shown us that a computer science education can make a huge difference in their lives if they have access to good teachers, challenging and relevant material, and the freedom to exercise their creativity to pursue their individual passions.

Aligning Education With Reality

Technology evolves quickly. As a result, there is often a disconnect between the technologies companies utilize and the ones schools teach. This disconnect is evident in recruiting departments across the country where companies are finding it difficult to find skilled talent to fill key roles within their organizations, even while youth unemployment remains a critical issue.

Closing the skills gap requires a deep collaboration between education and industry. Educators need to create tight feedback loops with industry in order to ensure they are teaching relevant skills. In regard to programming curricula, a line of communication with tech companies should inform what schools teach—ensuring that we are not only teaching the skills that truly power our economy but also setting students up for career success.

In addition to the transactional benefit of filling open positions in software development, programming skills can help students develop professionally regardless of their job title. Technology is so ingrained in our lives that every trade benefits from code and those who know how to wield it. A journalist can visualize data to write more compelling stories; a marketer can build and test websites. To ensure the politicians, activists, CEOs, doctors, and artists of the future are the best they can be at their jobs, basic technical fluency is becoming absolutely critical.

Optimizing Education for Happiness

The goal of educating should be nothing less than to help students live better lives. Education does not simply help fill jobs. For many students, it can be a critical path to economic mobility and personal fulfillment.

Education should be a way to excite people’s passions for learning and give them both a marketable skill and a career at which they can excel—not just because it earns them money, but because it is something that makes them happy. It was out of this idea that The Flatiron School was formed.

In addition to our curriculum and instructors, the guiding force behind Flatiron School is our students—and their hunger to learn with eagerness and passion. They approach their new careers ready for work and know intimately how to learn. If, as a country, we can tap into people’s innate desire to grow and find success, we can bolster our education system and grow talented, passionate technologists.

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