Insights from Educators - we have a branding problem
Right now I am in cold Ōtautahi Christchurch where there was snow on the ground yesterday morning as I walked to the toasty warm Ara campus where I have been hanging out all week attending an education conference. The focus of this is Digital Technology Education and delegates are from High Schools, Polytechnics (technology institutes) and Universities, staff from Te Pūkenga, from Toi Mai the workforce development council and my team from IT Professionals.
I was privileged enough to set the scene in my keynote speech on Tuesday where I talked about the skills and talent crisis the Digital Technology industry finds itself in, briefly touched on how we got here - both pre-Covid and how the global pandemic created the perfect storm we find ourselves in today.
Then I went on to discuss the two sides of the coin we need to focus on together and a range of issues that make up both:
- The pipeline into the industry - and for the audience the number of students into their classrooms, who will then become the staff of tomorrow
- Employers / Companies - and a complex set of issues ranging from the desire for Seniors, underinvestment in junior staff and cultural challenges leading to our industry not welcoming to those who haven’t traditionally worked here.
To stimulate discussion I posed a couple of hypothesis.
My first hypothesis was Aoteaora New Zealand is too small to require so many different education themed products - Information Technology and Computer Science and Applied Computing and Information Systems and Data Science and and and and.
Well I got a really mixed response to this. Consensus that all of these are necessary as they are different but equally consensus that we have created a confusing landscape (more on this below).
My second hypothesis came from feedback I hear from both learners and employers - that we need to find a mechanism for the education system to create “work ready” graduates.
Well that elicited really exciting feedback. I learned that students are being poached directly out of their degrees into the workforce and not completing their degrees.
That students are being poached without completing degrees and earning more than their teachers.
What did I learn from the educators in the room?
Knowing the best use of my keynote time was to listen! I turned it over to the audience and we agreed to three practical activities we can all work on together.
Capstone projects should be part of every year of study in a bachelors degree
For those of you who aren’t conversant with education language - and believe me after 10 years I still find new terms to unpick - a Capstone Project is designed to provide students with “real world” experience. In Aotearoa NZ these used to take the form of a research project where the challenge was posed by a company - back then the research was undertaken on campus and presented to the business at the end. These days Capstone Projects take on many forms including internship style placements with businesses where students work on a project that meets the outcomes specified for their Bachelors degree.
The vast majority of Capstone Projects are undertaken at the end of year 3 of a Bachelors Degree. The consensus in the room was some institutes have successfully trialed and demonstrated the incredible benefits of Capstone Projects as part of every year.
The core benefits being the ability for students to go into a workplace, to learn about working in a team, taking direction from others, understanding office environments and politics, learning about time keeping, decision making, problem solving - in a real world context. The other benefit is for employers to gain early access to students and help shape their experiences with industry.
We as a group agreed that Capstone Projects should be incorporated into every year but this will require industry commitment and partnership. Here is a useful American article on Capstone Projects.
Industry Projects for High schools
The Digital Technology (or DT) Teachers in the room asked for short / cut down opportunities for High School students as well. Interestingly the Bachelor level educators agreed this would significantly help in a couple of ways.
With pipeline - reinforcing Digital; Technology is a viable career pathway.
With preparation - students having already visited workplaces, spent some time there, gained some insight into what businesses actually do, what different jobs look like, will significantly help them when they do undertake Capstone Projects and for their studies generally.
We have a branding problem
Finally in response to my hypothesis above - that we have too many choices of education - we had a great discussion as an group about how easy it is for learners to choose construction as a vocation today. To be fair it has always been easy to choose a vocation - like medicine or accounting, and construction for that matter in the past - but the marketing spend today coupled with how easy it is to understand, makes construction an easy choice for learners right now.
We moved onto the question of how we reach the hearts and minds of 10 year olds, so that they know there are awesome jobs in tech AND can find an education pathway to get them there. I think this issue warrants it’s own blog post so will keep the rest of our discussion for another day.
Ngā mihi nui Vic
The snow wasn't deep or anything, just everywhere on the ground!
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