Public-private partnerships can build IT workforce pipelines, say education leaders

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To address the technology workforce shortage, stakeholders in business, government and education must work together to train students for a wide range of emerging careers, education leaders said at an event in Washington D.C. on Tuesday.

Speakers in one panel at Amazon Web Services’ Public Sector Summit agreed that amid the growing demand for workers trained in the latest technological skills, strong public-private partnerships will prove a key component of workforce pipelines that drive economic growth.

Joyce Williams, associate vice chancellor of workforce and community initiatives for the Dallas County Community College District, said her state of Texas is now looking at how best to build a pipeline from K-12 through college and into the workforce.

“There is a common need for education,” Williams said.

Historically, education and industry have not collaborated to develop educational pathways into high-demand careers, she said. However, creating space for businesses, government and education to share and discuss their needs is critical to transform education and sustain a skilled technology workforce pipeline, said Michael Hecht, CEO of the economic development agency Greater New Orleans, Inc.

“We are listening to the demand of business,” Hecht said, “and it’s working because the businesses are happy.”

Visiting businesses and asking what types of skills they want their employees to have is one useful strategy, Williams said.

That strategy, she said, has helped educational institutions develop curriculums and educational programs that will prepare students entering the technology workforce.

Some companies are already working with stakeholders across sectors to develop pathways for students into the technology workforce. AWS Educate, Amazon’s initiative to train students in cloud computing technologies, brings together leaders from education and private industry to build pathways into high-demand technology-focused careers like cloud computing, cybersecurity and data analytics.

Julia Von Klonowiski, digital director at Career Colleges, a U.K.-based workforce organization, pointed out that many students arrive at university with attitudes informed by their educational careers so far.

“A lot of students arrive very discouraged and let down by education,” Von Klonowiski said.

But because cloud and distributed computing skills are increasingly sought-after by employers, training in those skills could provide new opportunities for students who have struggled with traditional forms of education, Williams said.

“Given the opportunities in the IT ecosystem, cloud is an equalizer for these underserved populations,” she said.

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