ITAG Hosts Discussion on Cultivating IT Skills at the Regional Educational Level

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The ITAG Industry Partnership hosted the latest of our “discussion series” with an interactive group meeting on March 9th a AVE in Malvern, PA.

Over 35 attendees, including ITAG Board members and guests, joined together to expand on our discussion series around the topic of the development of the technology workforce in the region. Panel members led us through a deep dive into: What needs to be done at the regional education level to cultivate IT skills to meet the future demand of our SE PA employers. This discussion was moderated by Ms. Susan Boardman, Internships & Partnerships Leader, Downingtown STEM Academy. Susan was joined by panel members representing Technology Employers and Educators:
Mr. Erik Gudmundson, VP of Business Development, Pegasus Technologies
Ms. Thelma Lawson Haylock, Director HR at Pfizer
Mr. Pratheep Nair, Knowledge Architect Manager, Cerner and STEM Academy Advisory Board Member
Dr. Deke Kassabian, CIO West Chester University
Dr. Kirk Williard, Division Director CTCE (Career, Technical and Customized Education) at CCIU
Mr. Art Campbell, Headmaster, Downingtown STEM Academy

In addition to coding positions, for which there is a less of a demand than in years past, employers are hiring for IT generalists, customer service, enterprise projects, cyber security. What is changing is the type of candidate that employers need and schools are producing. There was a strongly voiced common thread: it’s not just about having the right degree or courseware or technical skill. It’s equally, if not more, about developing and hiring of candidates that have the critical thinking and creative skills to adapt to evolving challenges. The best candidates have the ability to learn, collaborate, take initiative and successfully engage with diverse team members. Candidates get this experience and skill development in many different ways: internships, co-ops, work assignments with experienced team leaders, working in a different field (i.e., a firefighter who transitioned to technology). It is also critical that courses at the High School and College level provide a variety of skills, not just tech skills. With almost all courses and students using technology, there is no longer one path to a technology career (i.e., digital humanities didn’t exist 10 years ago!). Students are using technology in all majors today so focusing on one path may no longer be the right approach; getting practical experience and learning how to apply learnings to different scenarios is more important. Schools are doing a better job of, and want to do even more, producing degree students that are better prepared for the world of work. When asked for a show of hands as to “who today is working in a field for which they got their original degree?” Only 3 hands were raised! One panel member offered that their original degree was in English and now they are working in technology. As one attendee put it: “The focus is more on what are we USING and not so much on what are we LEARNING”

Everyone agreed: It’s more about the well-rounded knowledge, practical experience, critical thinking and ability to adapt that will make a candidate stand out and be competitive. To that, there were several mentions of the “Success in the New Economy” video by Kevin Fleming which gets to the same point. The Video is a little over 9 minutes long and is a TED-Ed video available on You Tube and by clicking here .

Many thanks to the professional team at AVE for providing the excellent meeting space and sponsoring the generous networking session refreshments for our attendees!

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