Bridging the gap between schooling and the digital age professionals

Bridging the gap between schooling and the digital age professionals

Bridging the gap between schooling and the digital age professionals

Panelists foresee an ecosystem that works for a lifetime

There is undoubtedly a large gap between the skills learned in school and the skills needed for employment. Bridging the two with EdTech products was the focus of this work-directed discussion. Six panelists highlighted challenges and solutions along the entire path starting with K-12 education and moving through high school, college, vocational training, initial placement and lifetime employment. Couple this with careers that may span up to fifty years in a rapidly changing business environment, and you’re climbing a steep hill.

“What does it take to really bridge the skills gap between the schools and the digital age professionals, and how do we best prepare learners for an uncertain future?” posited moderator Tony Wan, Managing Editor of EdSurge, a publisher that helps educators find and use the best technologies for their students. Tony noted his personal story: He trained to be an historian but went to work in a tech startup. “New opportunities and jobs are changing faster than ever,” he said. “How will technology impact careers and industries, and which industries?” He noted a recent survey by The Economist that the top skills employers now seek are not directly in technology – those skills may be a given – but in non-cognitive areas such as critical thinking, collaboration and communication.

Bringing the right products into K-12 schools and getting the buy-in of teachers was the focus of Harold O. Levy, Executive Director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which supports high achieving, low income students. Harold highlighted the Tech Ed Consortium, which he successfully funded through the Gates Foundation, and which created a community of 34 major K-12 school districts in the US to efficiently identify, purchase and utilize EdTech products. “It is critical to supply training to teachers to incorporate the educational technology into their pedagogy,” he said, warning that failure to do so is among the key reasons for the failure of TechEd startups.
In addition to the Tech Ed Consortium, he noted two initiatives that were funded directly by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation: an online training course for teachers at the Columbia University School of Education and a Digital College Advisor Chatbox for direct use by students. “Ed Tech is still primitive,” he said, highlighting additional startup missteps such as failure to account for data privacy and overly rapid expansion. “It is up to the startups that gather here not to make these mistakes”.

Advancing the discussion to higher education, Troy Williams discussed investment opportunities in ventures outside of four-year colleges that build pathways to lifetime employment. Troy, Managing Director of University Ventures, concentrates on the continual need to update and learn new skills over multiple companies, industries and marketplaces over long working-life. Front-loading a four-year degree may have been suitable when undergraduate students were not primarily concerned with job skills training, and still may be suitable for some students, but not for the roughly 90% who go to college in order to work, he said. Matching this large student market with employers who require specific skill sets is where Troy targets the roughly $400 million under his firm’s management:
“Student debt is now $1.3 trillion dollars and it’s more than the entire credit card debt of all Americans; it’s one fifth of the entire mortgage debt of the country,” he said. “Much of this is based on the increasing number of students today who go to college but who wouldn’t have in past generations. It used to be, over the last generation or two, that 20% to 25% of high school students went to college. It’s now 50%. This new quartile is not getting a great result. They’re graduating with a lot of debt and yet they’re not able to find a job that’s necessarily better than the jobs they used to have. In fact, we’ve seen a lot of jobs that didn’t used to require a college degree that are now requiring a college degree.”

His proposed solution is to create an alternative framework in which students can obtain skills-based training and certification in short intervals throughout their careers and employers are able to target prospective employees who have attained the skills they require. He referred to this as developing “competency marketplaces” and “intermediaries” between prospective employees and employers. As examples, he noted two of his firm’s recent investments, Galvanize and Futr.

All the panelists pointed to skills assessment as a crucial ingredient of the education-work ecosystem, and this was the focus of remarks by Norihisa Wada, Executive VP and Marketing Officer of Tokyo-based EduLab. EduLab is responsible for Japan’s national entrance exams and achievement tests under the Ministry of Education. More recently the company has been involved with EdTech investment, including relationships with CodeMonkey Studios and SpeakingPal, Ltd in Israel. Norihisa described trends in Japan that mirror those in other countries. He noted that historically, entrance exam scores were the most important thing to students, while employers were most concerned with the university the student attended. Today, there is a “huge” difference: Summative, high stakes assessments have become less important to employers than formative, mid/low stakes assessments based on their need to hire candidates with non-cognitive skills such as leadership and communications.

Panelists agreed that much work needs to be done in updating assessments so that they become more accurate and useful in targeting specific skills over an entire career span. What about the perspective of students entering the workforce?
This was addressed by Shahaf Shakuf, VP and General Manager of Chegg in Israel and Wu Wensheng, CEO of Wanxin Media Group in China. “The gap is so huge between what students learn and what they need to do when they start working,” said Shahaf, whose Santa Clara based company originally was devoted to textbook rental. Responding to the needs of its customers, Chegg soon found itself providing services such as study aids, tutoring, test preparation, internships and scholarships. The company’s focus is on helping students with immediate educational and work-related needs. Wanxin responded to similar needs, albeit half a world away.
“What you learn you have to be able to implement,” he said. Originally a publishing company, Wanxin has deployed digital education capabilities and developed internship programs to reduce the time required for an employee’s learning curve at a new job. Wanxin technology is based in part on its relationship with CDI Systems in Israel.

The panel summarized with a discussion about the future of educational publishing – mainly how the digital publishing future is taking a long time to arrive. Impediments include the need of public companies to show short-term results; resistance to change among older-generation publishing executives and teachers, and proprietary content that does not lend itself to digital distribution.
As Harold Levy summarized, “New innovations are in this room.”