Over the course of the East Bay ICT Partnership’s first two quarterly meetings, industry partners have engaged in dialog aimed at identifying the most important opportunities or drivers of growth of ICT in the region—such as growing markets, new products, technological innovation, policy changes, specialized local strengths, and other factors and then focusing on specific actions that could be taken to advance the group’s priorities. From these discussions, three top priority actions were identified: Defining a new set of skills for the ICT workplace (The What), Shifting to an experiential learning model (The How), and building awareness to attract more people to ICT careers (The Who).
The What — Define a New Set of Skills
To be successful in the ICT workplace, people need both technical skills and non-technical attributes. What’s become much more important in recent years—and missing most in new entrants—is a set of non-technical skills, knowledge, and abilities.
To date, the ICT Partnership has identified the following non-technical skill set: critical thinking/logical problem-solving skills, cross-functional collaboration that enables rapid organizational execution, the creativity-technology/artist-developer combination, multi-lingual/international market understanding, the ability to understand innovation in emerging markets, the ability to break big problems into small pieces, and the ability to learn (e.g., eagerness, patience to listen, respond productively to failures). It also includes recognizing disruptive technologies, articulating how to adapt to business change, recognizing innovation gaps and working to close them, having awareness of top tools and working examples appropriate to the position, understanding the “big picture” of the business and its markets, having the ability to step outside one’s individual perspective to that of customers, reflecting professional behavior (e.g., presentation, cultural sensitivity, professional obligations, when and how to say “no”).
Industry agreement on the new ICT skill set(s) that is shared with local education and training institutions and programs, helping catalyze changes in curriculum content and delivery.
Compile and publish a consensus definition of the new non-technical skills needed in today’s IT workplace by organizing the above list of skills into major categories, describing each skill with more specificity (including examples of what the application of that skill looks like in the workplace).
Develop and drive an outreach campaign to discuss these new skills, targeting faculty and deans at local education and training institutions. Sign up education and training institutions willing to work with the ICT Partnership to incorporate development of these skills into the curriculum.
The How — Shift to an Experiential Learning Model
To produce the new skill set required by ICT-intensive companies, there needs to be a major shift in how students learn. The only way to gain the non-technical skills is to provide students with much more workplace experience as well as curriculum and teaching that emphasizes problem-solving, collaboration, creativity, and other attributes. This model will require a deeper and continuous collaboration between ICT-intensive businesses and education and training institutions and programs.
Industry agreement on the experiential learning model, with clear roles and commitments for business, education and training, and other partners; growing adoption of the model across the region, leading to an increasing flow of talent with the right mix of technical and non-technical skills to thrive in local ICT careers.
Define the experiential learning model, including what industry is willing to do to make it a reality with local education and training institutions (e.g., workplace experiences, curriculum suggestions/supplements, classroom participation).
Scale the number and scope of workplace experiences for local students. Define a continuum of workplace experiences (e.g., from project-based experiences to structured “boot camps” to internships to apprenticeships). Recruit businesses to make a commitment to providing workplace experience slots. Develop a workplace experience clearinghouse and matching process for connecting employers, schools, and students. Provide coaching sessions to help participating ICT businesses to provide effective mentorship to students.
Promote new curriculum requirements and provide new “real-world” curriculum supplements. Encourage adoption of the new non-technical skill set and experiential model into existing curriculum/courses/programs (e.g., mandatory internships/capstones, “soft skill” requirements/courses). Develop an accessible resource “bank” of cases, problems and solutions, and other curriculum supplements for use by local educators. Collect and source effective curricula/methodologies that local ITC companies are using now to teach non-technical skills, adding elements of these approaches to the resource bank. Sign up, train, and deploy a cadre of industry volunteers to visit classrooms, talk about the importance of non-technical skills, and provide instructional support in presenting/discussing industry case studies.
The Who—Attract More People to ICT Careers
We need to change the image, rebrand, and promote ICT beyond just the household names, using creative approaches and spokespeople, reaching both youth and adult career changers. At the same time, we need to simplify and systematize “talent fulfillment” processes, policies, and infrastructure, connecting companies and with education, training, and other sources of talent referral in the community.
Industry agreement and launch of a collaborative approach to awareness-building/rebranding; identification and implementation of priority improvements in key talent fulfillment processes, policies, and infrastructure.
Create a new focal point to draw attention to the diversity of opportunities in ICT industries (beyond the most visible employers). Develop a new web gateway to multiple features such as interviews, promotional events, networking opportunities—all to promote brand awareness and tangible connections to the diversity of ITC workplaces and careers. Compile and showcase compelling examples of recent successes for both employers and candidates. Compile and showcase snapshots of workplaces, featuring a wide array of employers. Profile and promote recognizable spokespersons.
Create non-traditional opportunities for networking among IT professionals and among IT professionals and a wider range of ICT employers. Experiment with events and programs such as alumni mentorship, “hack nights” in non-traditional settings, partnering with corporate diversity programs, and the like.
Create a systematic process for partnering with local institutions and programs on talent recruitment and placement. Create a widely-accessible, turn-key model for working with local institutions and programs on recruitment and placement to replace today’s fragmented and often ineffective approaches.
While this dialog was being developed, EBICT community partners remained in listening mode. Now, it is time to begin the process of working collaboratively to develop clear regional mandates and plans for regional solutions.