The Skills Gap


It is that time again, Spring. The “decision day” for millions of soon-to-be high school graduates all over the country who are making the decision of where they are going study for an even higher education. They fret about where they are going to go, they throw down deposits for their spot and make this life-changing decision for the college of their choice. But for what? As the debate grows over the value of a four-year degree, so do my hesitations about this whole system.

Is this true? Is the value of a four-year degree declining? A recent study by education technology company Greenwood Hall says that more than half of college graduates say new grads will see a lower return on their educational investment. In easier terms, past college grads are saying that today’s college grads aren’t getting enough bang for their buck.

Is this assumption from past college graduates real?

After looking into the matter more, the outlook for college seniors and graduate students preparing to accept diplomas this spring is actually not so good. The Labor Department reported recently that the unemployment rate for Americans in their 20s who received a four-year or advanced degree last year rose to 12.4 percent from 10.9 percent in 2013.

Is this lower placement rate the reason why recent graduates are saying college has a now lower return on investment? Why did that unemployment rate increase? Why are companies not hiring more?I talk to employers every day in my current line of work and not a day goes by without hearing “Tyler, I am having the hardest time filling important positions.” Which is then followed up by the routine “current graduates skill levels are simply dissatisfactory.”

I talk to employers every day in my current line of work and not a day goes by without hearing “Tyler, I am having the hardest time filling important positions.” Which is then followed up by the routine “current graduates skill levels are simply dissatisfactory.”

Is this the “skills gap” we hear about? Or is it simply companies whining?

Skills are sometimes hard to measure and to manage. Nowadays new technologies pop up as frequently as bunnies make babies. These technologies require specific new skills that schools don’t teach and that employers don’t supply. Tech has radically changed over the last couple of decades and probably even in the time that you have read the beginning of this blog post. Employers have had persistent difficulty finding workers who can make the most of these new technologies.

That is because in many cases these technologies aren’t being taught.

Consider, for example, CS degrees (the industry I am in). Over the last few decades, we have experienced a massive change in the CS degree. With the Internet, demand has grown substantially for qualified web developers. Then came smartphones and demand grew for even more developers. I can’t remember the exact figure, but the US Bureau for Labor Statistics says that by 2018 there will be 3x as many software engineering jobs than there are qualified workers to fill them.

Software developers have to keep up with new technologies and new standards that are always changing rapidly. A few years ago they needed to know Pascal and Pearl; now they need to know HTML5 & Javascript instead. New specialties have now emerged such as iOS and android specialists and many new kinds of information architects.

You are probably saying to yourself “well, the 4 year CS degree teaches all of that, right?” No, wrong. Computer Science schools have had difficulty keeping up. Because technologies and the market move so rapidly much of what CS schools are teaching becomes obsolete quickly and most are left with outdated older technologies.

Because these accredited institutions are, well, accredited, they have to get their curriculum validated & approved by their governing superiors. Universities have to jump through various hoops and red tape to finally get updated curriculum taught in their classrooms. This process is lengthy and from talking to current CS professors it can take up to 5 years to complete. In that time frame, whatever technology the school was trying to approve is already outdated.

Because of this, CS majors have to learn on the job or on their own. They do this either during their program or shortly after and makes graduates unmarketable. Learning on their own takes time and is very difficult. Learning on the job is why experience matters! But employers can’t easily evaluate prospective new hires just based on years of experience. Not every developer can learn well on the job and often what they learn might be specific to their particular employer and not easily transferable to the next.

This is the “skills gap” that exists between what universities and colleges teach and what modern day employers actually need. And when there is a “gap” in the marketplace, there is an opportunity for entrepreneurs.

Enter, “learning accelerators” and modern education. Self-taught entrepreneurs with the skill sets needed to bridge the “gap” are starting schools across the country to teach modern curriculums. These skill specific schools are delivering these curriculums and know-how in intense, condensed training sessions. These entrepreneurs have identified the problem explained in the CS degree example and are offering up to date curriculums which cut out the fluff of a typical 4-year degree. These educations are taught by people who already have the skills in an accelerated format. Typical “learning accelerators” (aka boot camps) are anywhere from 8-16 weeks long making them much more efficient than the previous learning methods. These skill specific accelerated schools have grown in popularity over the last 2-3 years simply because they are working. They serve their purpose; turning aspiring skill seekers into actual doers.

This new form of education has captured the attention of policymakers and employers alike. The schools delivering these immersive, in-person courses that train students in high-demand skills such as web development, mobile technology, data science and design are on the rise.

In 2012 was the first we saw of these high-tech accelerated education schools. Since then they have carved out their own new educational industry which equates to about $100 million in tuition.

How do I know they are successful and serving their purpose? Because I started one of these skill specific schools called DevMountain.

I work behind the scenes and know first hand that schools like mine have exceptional job placement outcomes. Employers are starting to care less of where their employees gain their skill set and are more concerned if said employees can simply perform. Schools like DevMountain offer a way to fill the skills gaps and promote employment and economic growth.

Is the 4-year degree obsolete? Personally, I think it depends on what field you are asking about. While 72 percent of educational institutions believe recent graduates are ready for work, only 42 percent of employers agree, according to a McKinsey study.

As it turns out, advances in “learning accelerators” may be the best news yet to match emerging members of the workforce with companies struggling to fill jobs. Skill specific boot camps and schools may be the answer to closing those percentages mentions above and bridging the “skills gap.”