One of the biggest challenges startups and established companies in the digital and tech sector face today is finding skilled workers to fill open positions. The so called “skills gap” has lead to over 1 million open positions in Europe alone.
Berlin-based CareerFoundry offers three-to-six-months online courses which teach tech skills, like web and user experience design. A fresh round of venture capital will now allow CareerFoundry to expand into new verticals including marketing and mobile design.
We took the opportunity and sat down with CareerFoundry co-founder Raffaela Rein to talk about the skills gap, coding classes for kids and minorities in tech.
You and the team at CareerFoundry aim to fill the skills gap in the European tech sector. What is the skills gap and why do we have one?
During my time at Rocket Internet and Axel Springer, we were set the task of trying to hire 150 developers, a feat that, we discovered, was downright impossible.
In essence this is the tech skills gap; we do not have enough technical talent to fill all the vacant jobs in the required disciplines.
The irony is, that despite the one million job vacancies in the IT sector in Europe alone, the continent as a whole is experiencing unprecedented levels of youth unemployment (close to 6 million young unemployed people across the continent). I realized that there is a huge gap in the market: our educational institutions are failing to educate people with the skills they need to build great careers for the digital economy.
Is the skills gap based on the lack of interest of young people, or is there a lack of information and maybe opportunity?
I doubt that it is a lack of interest. I think the skills gap comes from:
- a lack of information about the opportunities that await those with the right skills and
- boring pedagogic delivery methods used to impart these skills. For example, computer science is heavily math-focused, it does not excite students in the same way that coding in real time can.
I believe that simply by changing how we talk about tech skills in schools and universities could make a huge difference to levels of interest in careers in the sector.
Besides CareerFoundry and similar providers, what do you think could and should be done by governments and the tech industry to fill the skills gap.
I’d love to see the introduction of a “digital competency” curriculum in schools.
Not just IT (I remember the terrible computer courses we had to take in school, where everything we learned seemed totally unrelated to the real world), but giving students the chance to really dive into the most important digital skills, like user experience (UX) design and digital marketing. Ideally, these skills would be learned through mini- projects (student startups for example) so students can see how useful and applicable these skills are in the real world.
CareerFoundry’s solution to fix the problem starts rather down the line, at a time in one’s learning path when those learners could actually be employed in the tech sector. When do you think is the right point to start teaching basic tech skills. In university, high school or even earlier?
CareerFoundry is addressing the biggest need today – providing training for people to become skilled employees and freelancers in the current market. We’re essentially providing a solution to people who are already in the workforce today, but who are more than capable and willing to acquire the skills needed to fill the requirements of today’s job market.
Personally, I think the ideal age to start learning tech skills is probably around 10-12. Students should already be informed about the opportunities of the digital world when the question of “what should I do with my life?” becomes prominent – usually shortly before they leave high school, around the age of 16 or 17. Once at university I believe every degree – from archeology to politics – should contain at least one elective on digital competency.
What do you think of edtech startups that teach basic coding skills to children with toys and robots?
I love it! We all know that the basic foundations for life are built in childhood. This includes the shaping of ideas on careers, personal ambition and how that person thinks. In my case for example, entrepreneurship was preached to us from an early age. Later, when I started my first job it became clear that entrepreneurship was the path I would pursue. So I think if we want to build the next generation of leaders and innovators, we cannot start early enough.
There is a whole other discussion about minorities in tech on both sides of the Atlantic, especially when it comes to migrants and women. As a female tech startup founder, what is your take on the discussion. Do you feel it is getting better, and are online offerings, like MOOCs and CareerFoundry, contribute to the solution.
It always feels rather strange to call myself a minority given that women make up 50% of the world’s population. Yet it’s true, in Berlin only 3% of startup founders are female. So I guess I am a minority, and of course I’d love to see more diversity in the industry.
I fundamentally believe this is an issue of education; women and other minorities are always being told that the odds are against them, that it is somehow not “appropriate” to be entrepreneurial, and that it is better to look for security.
This attitude manifests – especially in women – and when combined with the potential juggling act of running a company and a family (or a desire for one), it is not surprising that many more women don’t pursue entrepreneurship. The solution to this is changing your mental horizon and having confidence in what you do.
I call on parents – especially fathers – to open up the horizons for their children. My father made it very clear to me that I had every right and every opportunity in the world, that I was not only completely capable but that it was pretty much expected of me to achieve something great.
I’m unsure if MOOCs per se can help change that, but at CareerFoundry we showcase many examples of successful women – including myself- who have built prosperous careers for themselves because of what they have learned on a CareerFoundry course. As a female founder, I have the opportunity to talk about our mission in many women’s magazines, thus I am able to reach more women than many of my male peers.
Startups like Andela of 2U co-founder Jeremy Johnson and Skype co-founder Morten Lund’s Coders Trust are trying to fill the gap with trained talent from Africa and Bangladesh. Those workers will obviously work for far less salary than tech personnel based in the US or Europe. Do you think there will be a race to the bottom and positions in Europe filled with remote workers based in those countries rather than tapping into the local workforce?
In the areas of menial and manual labor, every 8th job in Europe is expected to fall prey to either automisation or be shifted to a cheaper location. This is why at CareerFoundry we’re focused on teaching the next generation of leaders – people who will drive strategy, enable companies to grow and who can attract and lead other talent – these roles can never be replaced by machines or cheap remote workers.
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