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For anyone involved in today’s technology space, it should be obvious that competition for the most talented workers is, and will continue to be fierce. With technologies like blockchain, IoT, and AI all developing at breakneck speed and in parallel with one another, it’s easy to understand why. It’s already getting to the point that certain sectors are experiencing significant shortages of qualified workers (we’re looking at you, big data).

The reason that’s a problem should be obvious, but what’s not fully clear is why it’s a problem in the first place, especially in the US. After all, unemployment is hovering at or near 49-year lows, which should mean that workers have all of the leverage in moving into sectors with the most demand – and netting a pretty hefty salary to boot. The technology sector, though, requires some pretty specific skillsets, even for entry-level positions, and that’s where the bottleneck seems to be in the labor market.

A Failure of Education

What’s happening is that the rapid advance of technology is drastically outpacing the traditional education system’s ability to cope. That shouldn’t come as a surprise since our higher education system is based on a model that pre-dates the country itself. The reality is, technology now develops at a rate that makes traditional two and four-year degrees almost obsolete in the time it takes to earn them, and even masters-level programs don’t fare much better. That means that today’s graduates will still require some significant upskilling before they’re equipped for the jobs of tomorrow, even if they’ve mastered the latest available degree program. Based on the present outcomes (outdated skills, talent shortages), it’s pretty clear that our educational system is going to need to evolve to meet the skills challenges of the 21st century.

The Digital Advantage

Most people, when presented with the problem outlined above, will be quick to point out that we already have a viable successor to the traditional education model: eLearning. While it is true that digital coursework holds many advantages over its brick-and-mortar analogs, that doesn’t mean it’s working as well as it needs to given the current situation. For example, a cursory Google search will reveal that there’s no shortage of online degree programs available in technical fields, and at first glance, they seem quite up to date. The problem, however, is that they’re still based on the existing degree system, which means that too much time will lapse for students as they learn, and technology is sure to pass them by. That adherence to an outmoded model sacrifices many of the advantages that should be inherent in eLearning, making for a continuation of the underlying problem, rather than a solution.

A Learning Model for the Future

Fortunately, it seems like the eLearning industry is beginning to get the message and adapt, but it’s going to take serious buy-in from technology industry leaders who will need to recognize that a new generation of employees aren’t going to have the same kind of educational credentials that previous generations did. Instead, they will enter the job market with a collection of undergraduate degrees, micro-credentials, and MOOC certificates that will leave them better prepared for real-world jobs going forward. The challenge for employers is in investing the time and attention that it will take to verify the credentials that applicants present, especially while no unifying authority exists. In exchange, they’ll gain a workforce ready to tackle the challenges of fast-moving technology development, as well as employees who are already accustomed to learning specific skills on an as-needed basis.

Claiming the Advantage

As the eLearning industry continues to develop smaller, more nimble offerings to suit the needs of employers in the technology space, the companies that adapt to the ‘new normal’ in education will reap the biggest rewards. They’ll become a top draw for the highest-skilled applicants, just by accepting that purpose-driven training and experience trumps a traditional education almost every time. If that becomes the new recruiting standard across the technology space, those on both sides of the employment equation will stand to benefit. The skills gaps of today will give way to a more fluid, dynamic workforce that’s ready to meet any technical challenge, and workers will have the ability to move between positions with minimal retraining. It’s a true win-win, and one that will have to happen soon if the technology industry hopes to keep up or exceed its current pace of development in the coming years.