Don Jones

Tech | Career | Musings

One of my personal interests is how we educate our kids and prepare them for the workforce. In general, I think we do a poor job. There’s an enormous emphasis on getting a college degree, driven both by the high-margin world of academia and by businesses who make a 4-year degree a “minimum entry level” for almost every job. It’s insane – we’re taking kids at the most vulnerable point in their lives, as they make the transition to full adulthood, and throwing them into massive debt. We’re forcing them through a program that simply wasn’t ever meant for every kid or every job.

As someone without a college degree, but who completed a four-year formal apprenticeship, I’m keenly aware of how many great-paying jobs there are that don’t really need a college education. The problem is that apprenticeships, especially in “white collar” jobs, are pretty much dead, and primary education simply doesn’t focus on preparing kids for those jobs.

When I think of what you need to know, for example, to be an entry-level IT help desk worker… it isn’t an insurmountable list of knowledge. Yet those jobs average $36k per year in the US, which is a great entry-level position. They also tend to offer growth opportunities, and almost by definition they support on-the-job learning. But kids simply can’t get the needed pre-req skills in K-12, almost forcing them to go to college. Where, by the way, they won’t learn what businesses need them to know, either. Instead, they’ll come out of college at which point a $36k job ain’t much, given their newly acquired student debt.

That’s why I’d like you to consider voting for Aaron Skonnard’s SXSWedu presentation. Aaron’s the CEO of my company, and a bunch of us at Pluralsight would love to change the conversation on IT education. We truly believe that quality IT education is something that should be available everywhere, to everyone, for an affordable price. I personally believe that a motivated high school student could, with the right supplementary training (probably done on their own), move right from Senior year into an entry-level IT job and excel. I’m personally agitating to produce more of the entry-level training those kids would need, because I think it solves a number of huge problems: the difficulty finding entry-level IT workers, the need to keep kids from going neck-deep in debt before they’ve even had a chance to live, and so on.

You’ll have to create an account to vote, but votes count for 30% of the selection process, so if you have a moment to do so, it’d be a big vote of confidence. And, expect to hear more from me on this topic in the coming year – it’s definitely something I feel strongly about. I’d love to see more kids going straight into IT after school, and I’d love to see more businesses feel confident in hiring them for those entry-level positions. There’s no reason IT can’t become more of an apprenticeship-style career path, with an emphasis on continuous on-the-job learning supplemented by timely, up-to-date formal training. 

(I’ll acknowledge, to my non-US readers, that many countries have different systems for higher education, many of which lack the disadvantages of the US system; I live in the US, and so my perspective is driven by what I see around me.)

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