Written by: Reagan Flowers, Ph.D.
Next-level tech skills are in high demand, as I recently wrote about jobs that will be created over the next decade. However, we’re already seeing a huge gap between the candidates equipped with these skills and the number needed to fill available positions. STEM education will play a significant role in closing that gap, which should begin far before college. Let’s discuss the steps we need to take now to ensure students are equipped with the skills they need.
In-Demand Tech Skills by the Numbers
Before we get into action steps, let’s look at what this gap in tech skills currently looks like. The U.S. has four times the jobs requiring artificial intelligence and machine learning that India does. However, we rank among the lowest for the ratio of available candidates for these jobs – just eight potential candidates for each of these jobs.
Another problem area is cybersecurity. Experts in this area yield only five qualified candidates for each job. Data science is another skill to consider. The U.S. has many data scientists, but many jobs need to be filled in this field.
As you can see, opportunities are abundant. First, however, we must lay the groundwork to prepare today’s students for these opportunities.
STEM Curriculum Must Evolve Quickly
Utilization of relevant curriculum is key to preparing students for the workforce. A great example is typing. When computers were fairly new to the general public, many schools integrated typing classes for all students to prepare them for evolving office jobs. Today, this is no longer necessary, as many kids use smartphones and computers from a young age. Similarly, these in-demand tech skills will become the norm, and their use extends to almost every industry.
One of the problems is adapting the curriculum to establish the building blocks for these tech skills. Implementing a new curriculum can currently take up to six years. In a world where start-ups are continually changing the business landscape, and businesses of all sizes are making further developments, this pace of change will constantly leave us behind.
Schools need to develop curriculums that allow for change as new technologies develop. One way to do this is to focus on fundamental STEM skills, including problem-solving, out-of-the-box thinking, iterating, adapting, and collaborating. With this framework, specific topics discussed and what hands-on learning looks like can evolve as technology does.
Coding Should Become Core Material
Coding is really at the core of most in-demand tech skills. Unfortunately, computer science, including coding, is taught in less than half of America’s high schools. Coding is a skill that can translate across countless careers and should start as a core skill during the K-12 years when students can more readily absorb the information.
Learning to code is like learning a foreign language. Once the student has learned the new language, they can learn others. That adaptability will be critical as coding continues to change in the coding world. In addition, the skills I mentioned above – AI, cybersecurity, data science – will all offer jobs that involve coding.
How Parents Can Help with Tech Skills at Home
Parents can help prepare students for the tech skills they need by keeping them engaged. There are more opportunities than ever for students to attend webinars, participate in workshops, and attend virtual camps in today’s new normal, working remotely. We list many of these opportunities in our monthly newsletter.
In addition, be sure to follow organizations that align with your child’s interests. For example, if they’re fascinated by space exploration, watch out for opportunities from NASA. If they want to learn about AI, you can check out the AI Student Community.
Resources for Underrepresented Students
In an ideal world, all schools would prepare students with the tech skills they need. However, not all schools and not all students have the same resources. Students who are minorities and economically disadvantaged are falling further behind. Their schools don’t have the same resources; they don’t have the tech they need at home, and teachers are not properly prepared.
Supplemental organizations like C-STEM will play a significant role in helping these students. We see ourselves as the bridge to opportunity. By partnering with schools, teachers, community organizations, and corporations, we’re able to distribute resources and curriculum help where it’s needed most.
These types of partnerships are essential to these efforts. Partnerships can come in many different forms. For example, collaborations between technologically advanced schools and more disadvantaged schools can help bridge gaps; increasing professionals as mentors to students to help them understand the needed skills or community advocates finding ways to provide public computer labs and other needed resources.
Establishing More Robust Career Exploration
Another way we can look at preparing students is through career exploration. Traditionally, we choose a career path late in high school or even late in college, assuming we will learn what we need to in college or on the job. Though this is largely still true, students will benefit greatly from exploring the skills required for their desired careers earlier.
Take, for example, a student who’s interested in designing websites. If they explore and start learning the needed skills for that job, it becomes possible to land a more hands-on internship in college. Moreover, with that experience, they will be fully prepared to apply for more competitive positions.
In being aware of the increasing need for tech skills and taking measures to prepare students, we can help them fill the gap that will only get wider. As a result, they will have access to unlimited possibilities.