A fortified technology workforce begins in the classroom

Growing and maintaining a sufficiently qualified pool of professionals is a challenge

classroom with child's desk and stack of books

Technology is pervasive. It enables almost everything in our world. As society continues to embrace technology’s positive potential, we must mitigate the risks that arise from the same advances that contribute to improving the quality of our lives and society as a whole. Given the rapidly evolving technology landscape, it is no surprise that one of the most significant and pressing challenges is that of growing and maintaining a sufficiently qualified pool of professionals. Unfortunately, this challenge remains as yet unmet, as evidenced by the ongoing widening of the skills gap in technology-centered professions.

While there is no one solution to addressing the skills gap, academic institutions are in a position to do more. By acknowledging the realities students will face upon graduation, graduates can be equipped with applied technology skills and experiences that increase their understanding of the important role technology plays in driving individual and organizational performance in a global digital economy that has already begun to evolve, in varying degrees, into a cognitive economy.

Academia must evolve

While many colleges and universities partner with the business community, many of these engagements have traditionally been driven by research. The time is right for these institutions to take an alternative approach and to partner with and leverage the knowledge assets of professional associations, especially those known for credentialing specializations that are in high or growing market demand. It is imperative that academia evolves to better prepare students for careers in areas such cyber security and data analytics; business functions such as product development; infrastructure services for land and building management — all of these areas will see growth within the coming years. 

Traditional degree programs have been offered for decades. In a pre-digital economy, they provided an exceptional beginning for generations of young professionals. Today, however, failing to appropriately invest in contemporary programs that make students relevant and marketable within the digital economy is a huge disservice not only to the graduates themselves, but also to prospective employers.

In 2009, having the foresight to realize that technology trends would inevitably result in displaced jobs in the services sector, in concert with an increased need of technologically skilled knowledge workers, Singapore’s Ministry of Education opened an alternative degree-granting institution, the Singapore Institute of Technology.

The Institute offers innovative applied degree programs targeted at growth sectors of the economy with a unique learning model that brings together studies and real-world work experience. The students’ learning experience involves the use of globally accepted bodies of knowledge from leading credential and certificate-granting organizations in conjunction with an 8-12 month integrated work-study program that exemplifies the best of university-industry collaboration. Further, students are required to engage in community-based service programs, applying their newly acquired skills to address challenges such as environment and food waste issues, supporting at-risk youths, and providing services for the aging. The university faculty is proactive in its assessment of trends to anticipate the creation of new jobs, thereby enabling the university’s curriculum to be refined quickly and remain consistently relevant.

Singapore Institute of Technology makes business sense

Universities have the unrivaled potential to provide the learning experiences and guidance to students as they continue through the educational pipeline of skilled technology workers. More programs similar to the one offered by the Singapore Institute of Technology are needed, taking into account and leveraging the new modalities for learning. The timing is right for a more strategic, yet practical approach to degree offerings. Additionally, for universities challenged by shrinking enrollments and constrained budgets, this approach also makes sound business sense.

At the end of the day, the value proposition is simple. Graduates want jobs. Employers want a pipeline of relevant, well-prepared and skilled technology workers that meet the demands of their organization. Now, more than ever, we need a concerted effort to leverage the best of our collective thinking and knowledge assets to develop, implement and scale new, practical and applied models of learning to build a strong pipeline of technology-based knowledge workers to meet society’s current and future needs.

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Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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