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April 25, 2016 Q&A

Closing CT’s coding skills gap

PHOTO | Contributed Bruce Carlson, Connecticut Technology Council president and CEO

Q&A talks about the Connecticut Skills Challenge with Bruce Carlson, Connecticut Technology Council president and CEO.

Q: The Connecticut Technology Council (CTC) recently held the Connecticut Skills Challenge, which tested college students on their coding skills. What was the basic idea behind hosting this event?

A: As part of the CTC's Talent and Workforce effort, we are trying to match the available skilled and talented people that are already here in Connecticut with available jobs. We heard over and over from employers that finding coding talent was difficult, and we also heard that students were not finding easy ways to connect to the available jobs in Connecticut. This event was designed to match the talent with the jobs available.

Q: Why is coding so hot right now?

A: We are moving more and more into a digital world. Coding is a key element that makes the digital world work. Companies are looking for the talent that can either develop new software products or digitize the products they already have. As the digitization increases, the demand for coding skills will (and is) increase.

Q: What's the jobs outlook for coding and developers? Are there jobs in Connecticut? Will they still be here in the time it takes to train coders?

A: Coding is here to stay. We have been told that Connecticut companies could fill hundreds of coding jobs if the talent were available. The demand exists not only in Connecticut but worldwide.

However, not all the available jobs are for people coming out of college. Some are requiring 3-5 years of experience. That is why we need to not only establish programs like the Skills Challenge, but to also create robust internship and apprenticeship opportunities so that college graduates can have some, if not all, the required work experience being sought by the companies.

Coding jobs will be available for years to come so our efforts need to include short-term matching like the Skills Challenge and longer-term preparation of the workforce through STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, etc.

Q: In his 2016 state of the union address, President Obama said, “In the coming years, we should build on that progress, by … offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one.” Is there federal support for coding? What's your sense?

A: The federal government is trying various methods to get more people trained to code. Most of the programs are included as part of the Workforce Training grants that the state receives. One in particular is a new Apprenticeship Program aimed at creating non-traditional apprenticeship opportunities. These programs are focused on fields outside the normal trades that have developed these programs in the past. Specifically, this grant is looking for apprenticeship programs in the IT sector. As you may know, apprenticeship programs are a combination of on-the-job training and classroom education. We think this will be a great way to get people who might not normally be looking to get into the software development and coding fields a chance to do so.

Q: Where would you place Connecticut in its support of coding? Are school systems committed to it at the secondary level and even primary level?

A: In Connecticut, our education system is locally driven and there are pockets where coding skills are taught in high school. CREC is a great example of a high school program that is making a difference. But, it is not every school system or even every school within a school system.

Most school systems are putting an increased emphasis on STEM education, which is a critical first step in the right direction. As the push to introduce coding into the curriculum gains momentum, the reality is that the existing curriculum requirements already consume the school day, so finding pockets of time to fit it in is difficult.

That said, other jurisdictions are making bold moves to insure that coding skills are taught in school. Last year, England announced that they were requiring coding to be taught from kindergarten to eighth grade with students in eighth grade deciding whether to pursue computer science more formally or not. Even if the student didn't take the computer science track, there would still be mandated coding classes through 12th grade.

Q: Code to Live By A100 was one of the sponsors of the skills challenge. A gentleman on its website says, “Connecticut can fund startups; we can offer them places to work. We can do all that, but if we don't have developers, we're going nowhere.” Does that mean we need more private support to enact more developers?

A: There is a role that both the private and public sectors need to play. What will work best is when they are working together in partnerships. Programs like P-Tech or CT-ECO, where companies are working with public schools to support students that want to get into coding, are great examples where both private-and public-sector resources are brought to the table to maximize the benefit. The private sector can help meet the current need. which is in their enlightened self interest, while at the same time informing the public sector, both the education system and training programs, about what skills and talents will be required in the future. n

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