To Close the Tech Talent Gap, We Need to Rethink Education

October 6, 2014

2:48 pm

Following an engaging panel on how to create a “collisionable city” – a city conducive to interpersonal collisions that promote collaboration – at this year’s Tech Cocktail Celebrate Conference, the discussion on stage switched to what public and private entities can do to support the expansion of the available talent pool. Whether in the form of public policy, private programming, or joint public-private initiatives, what factors play into creating and developing a workforce that matches the demands of a growing startup community?

Participants in today’s second panel, “Growing the Talent Pool,” included Sheikh Shuvo, the senior regional manager for the Asian Pacific and MENA (Middle-East/North Africa) for UP Global; Donna Harris, the cofounder of Washington, DC-based incubator 1776; Mike McGee, the cofounder of Starter League; Shaun Johnson, the cofounder of Startup Institute; and Rebecca Lovell, the startup liaison for the City of Seattle. Sharing their varied opinions from the private and public space, the group covered topics such as how to close the talent gap, recommendations regarding changes to our traditional model of education, what to provide underrepresented groups, and the difficulties and benefits of mid-career transitions.

“Often, when we hear the words, ‘How do we attract talent?’ we think: How do we bring outside talent to the community?” began Harris. “But, what we don’t hear often enough is: ‘How do we unlock the hidden talent in our community?'”

Harris, who has had extensive experience with helping grow DC’s startup community through 1776, led the discussion on what communities can be doing to build the talent of their very own people – that rather than focusing solely on attracting outside talent, regions should create environments that can provide the necessary resources to help their current people fill the talent gap.

“Instead of trying to attract talent, we [at Starter League] looked to Chicago…and provided them with a community to learn…and to create designers and developers,” said McGee. “Instead of looking to the 1% getting jobs at the likes of Google and Apple, we looked to the rest of the world that wanted to get into this.”

For one thing, it’s about revamping the way we think about and approach education. Currently, our education system forces students to limit themselves to a particular set of areas of study and career paths. Many of the panelists agree that – from teaching practices to the greater education policies at hand – education lies at the foundation of closing the talent gap that exists in technology. Even in higher education, where the quixotic goals involve giving students the ability to explore any topic imaginable, students find themselves limited to certain academic and career paths (pre-law, pre-med, finance, consulting, etc.) or working for specific companies depending on the partnerships that certain schools have with current companies (i.e., Big Company X has a strong presence on campus career fairs).

“From helping folks understand that there’s more than one scene other than founder…to getting them to learn that there’s more than one oligarchy that can drive innovation, we have to do more to show that there’s a plethora of options,” said Johnson.

And many of the panelists have certainly contributed their fair share to allow people within their communities to know about other/alternative educational opportunities in tech and design. From things like comprehensive training programs to groups that support learning these skills, communities can provide a lot in order to revamp the way we look at educating people to close this talent gap in tech. Ranging from various public, private, and joint initiatives and programming, each of the panelists shared the importance of not solely offering these resources, but making sure that people actually know about them – going into communities and into groups, making these things more transparent.

“It’s not about willingness and ability, but about access and opportunity,” said Lovell. “In particular, it’s about helping to expand the talent especially in underrepresented communities like women and students of color.”

On October 6-7, Tech Cocktail Celebrate Conference is gathering hundreds of attendees, industry leaders, and inspiring speakers in downtown Vegas to meet the hottest startups and investors from around the country, learn and collaborate with others turning their communities into startup cities, and enjoy music, parties, and llama spotting. Check out more Tech Cocktail Celebrate Conference coverage here.

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Ronald Barba was the previous managing editor of Tech.Co. His primary story interests include industry trends, consumer-facing apps/products, the startup lifestyle, business ethics, diversity in tech, and what-is-this-bullsh*t things.

Aside from writing about startups and entrepreneurship, Ronald is interested in ‘Doctor Who’, Murakami, ‘The Mindy Project’, and fried chicken. He is currently based in New York because he mistakenly studied philosophy in college and is now a “writer”. Tweet @RonaldPBarba.

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