Digital Inclusion Panel Discusses Skills Gap

An MIT panel discussed how strategies to address the skills gap can break barriers to digital inclusion and ensure opportunities for more young people.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Initiative on the Digital Economy hosted a panel on how technology can close the skills gap, increase equity and build a more inclusive economy. What is needed to address the skills gap and drive digital inclusion for all?

"The talent shortage is driving everything," said Eric Schmidt, Alphabet, Inc. executive chairman.

The Haves & The Have Nots

Massachusetts Speaker of the House Robert A. DeLeo said as former chair of Ways & Means, he heard a tale of two states traveling from Boston and Cambridge to cities in other parts of the state, such as the Lowell and Lawrence area.

To address the skills gap, the state is working on setting up a business link with community colleges and vocational schools to ensure better training for future work. The recent news that Greentown Labs opened a Springfield, Mass., office will support addressing the skills gap in this large city west of Boston, he said.

Where Talent Comes From

Shawn Bohen, national director for growth and impact for Year Up, explained the organization's mission is to work on perception challenges:

  • Negative stereotypes of young people
  • Racism and classism
  • Young people that don't know what success looks like

Year Up also focuses on employer practices, including competency assessments and how they are done.

Employers don't understand where their talent really comes from, she said. They don't seem to have insight into that data. But, they are asking what they can be doing in the ecosystems where they operate to "ensure there is rich fabric so everyone can get into the game," said Bohen.

Companies Participate in Skills Training

"Diversity and inclusion are good business," said Schmidt. Google has participated in numerous youth training programs to address the skills gap and get young people ready for the careers of the future, such as CSFirst and the Made With Code program that 8 million teenage girls have gone through.

"The gap is getting greater because these systems are getting more sophisticated," he said, so training early on is critical to get to the level of an MIT. For example, people with the skills needed to do artificial intelligence work are so few and far between that companies have to "manufacture them."

Schmidt also said that government plays an integral role in developing a skilled workforce and breaking barriers to digital inclusion.

DeLeo agreed. New early education investments in Massachusetts are a direct result of bringing business into government discussions, he noted.

Reinventing Teaching for Digital Inclusion 

Teaching has to be reinvented because business needs have evolved from the days of manufacturing, said Erik Brynjolfsson, with the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy.

Systems are being built for people with different skills to learn from, noted Schmidt. "Using measurement in teaching, you can produce a more efficient mechanism that works for everyone," he said.

But Bohen disagreed with the final point.

"The peer learning cohort model is central for this population of young people to be successful," she said. The challenge is making the contextualized learning experience available to more populations.

Key Takeaways:

  • Business involvement is crucial to addressing the skills gap
  • Work experience is critical for young people
  • Teaching has to evolve to hone skills businesses need
  • Government plays an integral role in fostering skills training in education
  • Skills are what people get hired for, but attitude and behavior are the reasons they are fired

Learn more about the Inclusive Innovation Challenge on MIT's website.

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