Silicon Valley Faces Growing Demand for Hybrid Education

By PK Agarwal, Regional Dean and CEO, Northeastern University-Silicon Valley

Our world is being transformed by disruptive advances in the fields of robotics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. Two-thirds of Americans now expect robots or computers to take over jobs performed by humans in the next half century, according to findings from the Pew Research Center.

By 2020, more than 7 million jobs will be lost due to the impacts of technology, according to the World Economic Forum’s “The Future of Jobs” report. The study estimates that 65% of children entering primary school today will end up working in completely new job types that don’t even exist yet. As more traditional jobs get replaced by automation, we will need better ways to educate our students and train our employees to stay competitive. This means support for reskilling or upskilling our community, which is where academia plays a central role.

In Silicon Valley, academia must strengthen its ties with the tech industry to grow the talent pool for high-demand jobs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). This effort will also require federal, state, and local governments to support new policies and programs that enlarge the jobs pipeline.

Many current jobs will be obsolesced by technology, requiring those displaced workers to develop new skills to become next-generation paraprofessionals. We call this process reskilling, which is retraining workers with new skills to pursue emerging vocations such as robotics technicians.

In one useful example, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo led the charge to include San Jose in TechHire, a new federal program that gives grants to companies and government agencies to develop joint worker training initiatives. TechHire provides access for low-skilled workers, the unemployed and veterans to find good jobs at such tech industry giants as Facebook, eBay, and Cisco.

Upskilling Workers for the Techno-Economy

However, reskilling is not enough. By 2020, 2 million new jobs will be added in the STEM disciplines, according to the World Economic Forum report. Filling those technical and scientific positions will require upskilling, which is giving highly educated people new knowledge and experience to elevate their careers in the STEM fields. A hybrid educational model is the ideal format for upskilling because it emphasizes learning by doing, and blends conventional classroom lectures with new forms of experiential learning, co-op job opportunities, and convenient online classes.

Last year, Northeastern University opened a new Silicon Valley campus in San Jose to increase access to the rich pool of tech talent and resources in this area. Our hybrid education strategy combines flexible course offerings with novel approaches to job training and mentoring. Northeastern works with 3,000+ corporate partners to better match our curricula and training programs to high-demand STEM jobs. For students who lack STEM backgrounds, the ALIGN program offers bridge courses toward a graduate STEM degree, along with benefits from the co-op program and a global network of alumni.

A hybrid approach integrates experiential learning to engage students through hands-on coursework. Courses are structured to be interactive, conversational, and participatory through class projects, rather than through standard classroom lessons. Co-ops and internships can also offer alternative means for students to branch into new career paths. For example, in our programs, as early as the second semester, students can take a paid position that combines their coursework with new job skills.

Joining Forces to Improve Employment Outcomes

To feed California’s golden goose high-tech industry, higher education and government must develop new job training programs for technical reskilling and career upskilling. Toward that end, we should also emphasize teaching softer social skills such as emotional intelligence, persuasion, empathy, and listening. Many studies have shown that an ability to work well with others will be a critical job attribute that cannot be automated by machines.

Rather than reinforcing the traditional split between vocational jobs and high-skilled knowledge work, we envision a future that embraces new categories of paraprofessionals who are much more industry-aligned throughout their careers.

The world is rapidly changing and our educational system should reflect this dizzying pace of change. More than ever, students need to sharpen their skills for reasoning and critical thinking. At the same time, workers need access to effective retraining programs, especially in the STEM disciplines.

Business, government, and academia must all join together to reskill and upskill the Silicon Valley workforce. A new hybrid approach to blended learning is the only way to enable our workers to remain relevant and vital in this 21st century techno-economy.

About the Author:

PK Agarwal is the Regional Dean and CEO of Northeastern University-Silicon Valley. Agarwal served as the former CTO of the State of California under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and as the former CEO of The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE).

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