Alternative education can help close IT skills gap

Bootcamps, MOOCs, nanodegrees and online education providers won't take the place of a traditional degree anytime soon, but they can play an important role in helping close the IT skills gap.

professional development in the technology field
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There's a huge need for affordable, accessible IT education and training options to help IT workers and job seekers keep up with ever-changing skills demands. While bootcamps, MOOCs, certificates and nanodegrees won't take the place of a college education, they can play an important role for organizations looking to stem the widening IT skills gap.

Honing in on emerging skills

"That's the major issue in IT today -- companies need people with these new and emerging skills, like data science and UX, but people can't get the skills fast enough because of time, money and training constraints," says Gautam Tambay, CEO of Springboard, an online educational institution focused on user experience (UX) design and data science. Tambay saw the IT skills gap problem firsthand when his sister, an artist who worked as an illustrator, wanted a career change and looked into graduate school programs for UX design.

"She applied and was accepted to graduate school, but when it came down to it, she just couldn't bring herself to commit. There was a huge time commitment -- two years. The expense was astronomical. Who wants to go hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt? And there was no guarantee that what she'd be taught would even be relevant once she completed that schooling," he says. There had to be other options that were more affordable, that delivered high-quality coursework and could be completed much more quickly.

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He founded Springboard (formerly known as Sliderule) about two years ago to fit that niche, and to address the needs of tech professionals, who want or need to gain new knowledge and skills without the exorbitant expense or the major time commitment.

Degrees are still in demand, but …

Though a four-year college degree is still the gold standard, it won't necessarily guarantee success, especially in the IT industry, where new technologies and, thus, new skillsets, are needed to help drive innovation and growth. MOOCs, bootcamps, nanodegrees and other alternative education options are critical both for IT workers and IT companies, both of whom need to quickly and cost-effectively add new technology skillsets.

"The trend toward [options like] nanodegrees is not going to change how college degrees are valued by employers in the U.S. We don't see the Fortune 500 employers we work with viewing [alternative education] on par with a four-year computer science or business degree, but like any technical certification, the fact that a job candidate took the time to get certified will be viewed as a plus. It's a great way for companies to immediately get experienced candidates with specific skills," says Paul Harty, president of recruiting solutions firm Seven Step RPO (Recruitment Process Outsourcing).

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Millennials, too, are driving this shift. Instead of moving up the corporate ladder at one or two firms, the younger generation of professionals use job-hopping as a way to advance themselves professionally, says Tambay, much different than the traditional model of career "success."

"The half-life of skills is about two years now; it's completely different than the old model where people went to college, went to grad school, and had a career doing one thing for most of their lives. Today, millennials are going to have something like 15 jobs over the course of their career. This shift, plus the economic changes we're seeing with the growth of the gig economy -- the old model is broken. The need to quickly upskill and reinvent yourself with new knowledge, new skills and new technologies makes the alternative education market huge," he says.

This story, "Alternative education can help close IT skills gap" was originally published by CIO.

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