While there has been a nationwide shift away from requiring college degrees for many entry-level jobs, a college diploma is still considered a prerequisite for most of the top jobs at IT and technology companies. Today, more than 80 percent of technology and IT employers are looking for candidates with a college degree. But is a college’s IT curriculum truly preparing students for the jobs of tomorrow? And is a degree really the best indication of a candidate’s technology skills?
While colleges and universities are focused on preparing students with the skills, knowledge, and abilities necessary to enter the workforce, giving students training in the latest and greatest technologies can sometimes prove elusive. Since the pace of innovation far outpaces the speed of IT curriculum change, it can be difficult to align what is taught in the classroom to what is being practiced at some of the largest and most innovative technology companies.
To learn more about why colleges and universities struggle to train students on the most cutting-edge technologies, and how targeted technology skills training can better prepare college students for life in the real world following graduation, Today’s Modern Educator sat down with Hannah Aldine, a solutions consultant for federal, state, and local government and education at Pluralsight.
Today’s Modern Educator (TME): When students enroll in college with an IT major, what is the IT curriculum like? Are IT skills and job training skills often prioritized or a part of the program?
Hannah Aldine: Many programs are increasingly focused on ensuring graduates have the tech skills needed for the workforce, and they’re looking at job placement rates to gauge how they’re doing.
We work with colleges who have industry advisors telling them what skills they’re looking for in graduates, so colleges know they need to provide students with the most current skill set. But, at the same time, we often hear it’s challenging to actually provide these skills because technology changes so quickly.
TME: Considering how quickly technology changes, is it possible for curriculum to keep pace with innovation? Is it reasonable to expect professors to keep pace with technology?
Hannah Aldine: University curriculum takes significant time to develop due to the long tradition of approving major curriculum changes through committee. Individual faculty can be agile and update their courses if they choose, but programmatic changes can take years.
Faculty also often need intrinsic motivation to revise their courses because of the many competing demands for their time. They’re juggling, at a minimum, teaching, scholarship, and service, and so they are hard-pressed to find the significant amount of time required to fully revise a syllabus.
This requires researching current trends, learning new concepts/skills, evaluating textbooks and resources, creating new lesson plans and materials, writing new assignments, updating their LMS, and the list goes on. They need to have a compelling reason to take this on in “their spare time.”
I believe it’s unfair and unreasonable to expect them to overhaul a syllabus as often as technology changes would necessitate.
From a programmatic perspective, a committee generally needs to conduct a needs analysis, agree upon and map out the key objectives of the degree and supporting courses, and gain approval from subordinate committees.
All of this takes time and effort. And if this is happening in a field like computer science, for example, where the half-life of a given technology is two and a half years, the next technology is rising in popularity before the previous one has begun to be taught. Content in many fields is quickly outdated, and students notice.
TME: Without proper skills training, what problems could students face when it comes to finding a job? What problems can they face when they start a job?
Hannah Aldine: Whether it’s Excel or Java, the majority of job descriptions now include tech skills. And that’s for jobs in a wide range of fields, not just roles specifically in the tech industry. For students to be competitive in the job market, they need to have those tech skills in their tool belts, along with the depth and breadth of knowledge coming from their degrees.
They could certainly learn those tech skills while they’re onboarding into a new role, but when they’re up against applicants that already have those skills or applying to a company that doesn’t have the time and/or resources to provide that training, they won’t even make it through the door. If they’re fortunate enough to start a job where they can learn as they onboard, it can be overwhelming to find time to learn those tech skills on top of their new job duties.
“I believe it’s unfair and unreasonable to expect them to overhaul a syllabus as often as technology changes would necessitate.”Hannah Aldine
The more students are exposed to tech skills at the university, the faster they’ll be able to adapt and learn new tech skills in their future roles.
TME: What are some effective and efficient ways for colleges and universities to offer IT job and skills training courses to their students?
Hannah Aldine: We’ve seen a variety of models for supporting tech skills across campus. Some colleges and universities provide a tool like Pluralsight Skills to every student so they have the resources to learn autonomously. Students can see the tech skills required in job descriptions that interest them, and then learn the skills aligned with those roles. This is an efficient approach to make a light lift for university faculty and reach the widest range of students.
We also see departments integrating skills across their courses so that students are building their tech skills across the entirety of their degree. For this model, it’s key that colleges and departments inform curriculum development through conversations with industry advisors who can provide feedback on what tech skills they’re looking for. Alignment between future roles and university program objectives leads to more effective decisions around which tech to teach.
Finally, micro-credentials and certification programs for IT skills are growing. A student might be able to earn a micro-credential alongside their degree so that they are learning adjacent skills, or their institution might offer stackable micro-credentials to build toward a larger degree. Ultimately, regardless of the approach they take, universities need to provide their students in all majors with tech skills if they want graduates to be workforce ready.
TME: What types of IT skills does Pluralsight offer to college students? Are there particular technologies or focus areas that are more in demand than others?
Hannah Aldine: Pluralsight supports upskilling in IT operations, security, software development, data and machine learning, and the cloud. Campuses that have a wide distribution of licenses will often see high demand for skills such as Microsoft Office, data, and project management – which applies to many fields.
Where we’re partnering with specific colleges, skills in disciplines such as computer science, software development, data, and networking are a focus. We’re also seeing a growing number of computer science departments developing cloud degrees, so that’s an area that is certainly expanding.
“Ultimately, regardless of the approach they take, universities need to provide their students in all majors with tech skills if they want graduates to be workforce ready.“Hannah Aldine
TME: What about college IT departments? They clearly have network, security, and other IT needs and requirements. Does Pluralsight see colleges and universities also leveraging its courses for their own, internal IT departments and teams?
Hannah Aldine: Absolutely. Technologists on internal IT teams need to stay current on their skills, and the colleges they work for often can’t keep up with how quickly technology changes to provide local training, so they use skills training solutions such as Pluralsight to upskill.
TME: What types of courses do they take, and how do those courses align with the large IT challenges and priorities facing higher education institutions?
Hannah Aldine: Many institutions are migrating from on-prem to the cloud, and so our deep cloud content, labs, and sandboxes align with their priority to internally develop specialists who can facilitate that migration efficiently and securely.
Campus IT teams also face unique challenges around network infrastructure. Campuses have myriad students, faculty, staff, and guests using multiple devices on their networks, plus they host sensitive data that has to satisfy FERPA and HIPAA requirements, so they are focused on upskilling around security, networking, and data, and they’re seeking certifications like CompTIA.
We’ve also seen IT departments leverage Pluralsight in conjunction with their internship programs. Interns have access to resources to learn and apply tech skills within the Pluralsight platform, and then they are more prepared to apply those skills to their internship projects.
For additional information on talent mobility, technology skills, and learning and development for tech employees, click HERE to download a complimentary copy of the Pluralsight 2023 State of Upskilling Report.