World Tech Jam brainstorms on how to close the global skills gap

Technology professionals and educators rarely get a chance to be in the same room with each other. Nor do they often get to share their ideas about tech with some of the world’s most senior tech leaders, like President of IBM Canada John Lutz.

But last week from June 5-7, the World Congress on Information Technology (WCIT) and IBM hosted the World Tech Jam which brought thousands of people together from across the globe to collectively brainstorm online about the future of technology. Some of the ideas on the table were pretty revolutionary!

If you subscribe to this blog (that’s all of you, right?), you’ve read about the CareerMash Youth Tech Jam, a series of in-school tech brainstorms that culminated in a final event at the Ontario Science Centre on May 11.  The goal? To find out how the leaders of tomorrow think technology can change the world in five theme areas: the environment, health care, media and culture, transportation and smart cities, and education.

The World Tech Jam continued with the same themes but entirely online, like a live-updating message board with a social network to connect with other Jammers as well as join chat sessions with some of the top minds in the field.

Ideas from the CareerMash Youth Tech Jam and the World Tech Jam will guide the proceedings at WCIT 2012, the world’s biggest technology gathering, taking place in Montreal this October. Two teenagers who enter the CareerMash Youth Tech Jam Essay Contest get to go, and one will even present their ideas on the Global Young Innovators panel to employers from across the world.  This is your cue to enter the contest before it closes June 30.

So what kinds of ideas were discussed at Jam last week? As a facilitator in the Jam’s forum on technology’s role in education and skills development, I saw all kinds of interesting propositions. There was clear agreement that we need to change the way technology is taught in schools – less focus on using tech, more focus on making it! Not only would this be more interesting and challenging for you, but it would build skills that are badly needed in the technology workforce.

One of the hardest things about planning technology education, whether we’re talking about the elementary, secondary, or post-secondary level, is that innovation happens fast in technology. An English class can focus on the same collection of authors and ideas for 10 years or even more before they are outdated and History courses don’t need to be revised very often either.

But the things learned in a grade 9 programming class will probably be obsolete by the time you graduate from university. How can our educators and our curriculum, stay ahead of the curve?

Some Jammers proposed partial solutions such as focusing education on transferable soft skills like integrative problem-solving, critical thinking and communications which will come in handy no matter what technology is in vogue. Another Jammer suggested mandatory industry work terms for teachers where every couple of years, teachers spend a semester working for an organization in their field to stay current on what skills are important in the workplace.

Karna Gupta, President and CEO of the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC), suggested something way more earth-shattering. In Karna’s view, the whole idea that we finish our education around age 20 needs to change. Why not spend several years in school, then hit the workforce for a few years to apply what you’ve learned, then return to school? That pattern can continue for your entire life, not only benefiting the economy by making sure people are constantly on top of the changing tech landscape, but enriching your life through continuous education.

Feel inspired by these ideas? Think you have a way better one? Go ahead and write a one-page essay on it for the CareerMash Youth Tech Jam contest!

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