The rise of the knowledge economy is driving a tectonic shift in the nature of work—and in the education ecosystem that prepares learners for their careers. Old and new players are rethinking how, what and where people learn, and, in particular, how to master the digital skills that are increasingly vital to jobs in a widening swathe of industries.
But there is a disconnect between the skills that students are being taught and those that employers require, and we face the stark prospect that one-third of jobs in 2020 will require skills that aren’t common today. For learners to qualify for work that pays well and for companies to source the talent they need, the market around skills-based education needs to evolve quickly to train students in the technology platforms now required for the jobs they seek.
Mind The Skills Gap
Many tech industry jobs today require “platform-centric skills,” meaning workers require expertise in using sophisticated and specific technology platforms, such as Salesforce, Tableau or Photoshop. A learner might leave college with marketing theories under her belt, but lack the ability to use applications like Marketo or HubSpot that are critical for getting a marketing job. She might know the theory behind data science but not how to use Tableau.
When a shortfall in skills snowballs it throws the brakes on economic growth. Traditional educational institutions and employers are unlikely to have the incentives or expertise to close this divide on their own. They’re going to need the help of the platform companies themselves.
Why should platform companies step into this space? Entangled Studios has spent the past year collaborating with platform companies on the why and the how. The more people who know how to use a specific platform, the more businesses that can adopt it. And we know from years of watching mainstay brands such Google or Apple, that creating an early relationship with a user can lead to lifelong brand affinity and connection. Early signs show that platform companies that invest in a scaled education strategy will gain long term competitive advantage. For this reason, the most forward-thinking platforms are providing their education offerings for free.
New Times Mean New Partnerships
To achieve scale, forward-thinking platform companies likely will need to partner with colleges, universities and K12 schools to embed the acquisition of platform-centric skills within traditional programs and degrees. We are only just starting to see these partnerships form in meaningful ways.
This summer, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced a partnership with 30 community colleges to offer a two-semester course, designed by Apple engineers and educators, to teach students to build apps using Apple’s programming language, Swift. And Google recently announced plans to donate $1 billion to nonprofits explicitly to train tech workers. As part of this announcement, the company rolled out Grow with Google to help link learners to the education and training opportunities they need to get new skills.
“The nature of work is fundamentally changing, and that is shifting the link between education, training and opportunity,” Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai shared in a recent speech he gave in Pittsburgh.
Northeastern University and IBM announced a partnership in early October to allow learners to use IBM-issued badge credentials towards three professional master’s degree programs, with plans to expand the arrangement to 51 additional graduate degrees and 17 certificate programs.
“We must eliminate the gap between learning and work,” said Philomena Mantella, senior vice president and CEO of the Professional Advancement Network at Northeastern.
Salesforce recently unveiled Trailhead for Students, a free digital learning platform and community. Students can earn badges for learned skills, apply their learning to real-world challenges and engage with mentors. Educators can access instructor kits and other resources to help them use Trailhead in the classroom, and they can interact with other educators. More than 70 educational partners have signed up to date, including schools like the University of Massachusetts Lowell and University of San Francisco.
New Challenges Mean New Opportunities
The issue of how learners are educated and re-skilled over time is of tremendous societal consequence. The automation and augmentation of jobs is raising the profile of issues surrounding the skills gap to the attention of those beyond the traditional education stakeholders. That new players are stepping up to answer the challenge is a good thing for learners and our economy; these new players can unlock resources and capabilities to support learners in this time of change. And it motivates us to ask new and important questions:
What if nearly all students graduated with a degree and an industry-certified credential that dramatically increased their likelihood of getting a high paying job? What if more colleges, in collaboration with platform companies, served as the “homebase” for learners to upskill and reskill over time into new jobs and industries? What if platform companies, which are often responsible for displacing workers through automation, considered it their imperative to train those workers for the jobs of the future? What if education efforts also aligned to the business priorities of platform companies—such as growth and brand—opening up even more resources for long-term investment in an education?
We have the opportunity, and the means, to reshape skills-based education in service of modern learning and a modern economy. But like many of society’s biggest challenges, the problem outpaces what any one organization can do alone.