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Ideas Roundtable: Advancing the Conversation Around Topics that Shape Our Lives
Content provided by GE
Ideas Roundtable: Advancing the Conversation Around Topics that Shape Our Lives

To Close the "Skills Gap," First Think about How Kids Learn Surfing Tricks from YouTube


The hardworking teachers in the United States educational system do a great job at creating a strong baseline education, but the students that employers hire often don't have enough specialization in the areas that employers really needed - meaning that, yes, a skills gap does exist. 

Unfortunately the pace of innovation is so fast that by the time educational institutions set curricula, it is already outdated. In the startup environment, the companies that we deal with at TechStars find it really difficult to hire kids straight out of college without having to train them all over again. 

So where do students get the training and experience that employers really want given that the pace of innovation is so fast?

Here are a few things we know for sure:

  1. We must expose students earlier to how technology is used in the workplace.
  2. We must show them what different work environments and careers are really like.
  3. We must help our kids identify what they are passionate about sooner.

Kids passionate about a subject will engage in some of the practice necessary outside the traditional educational system to acquire the skills that they really need. Immersive, project-based education, ideally in partnership with industry, is incredibly important. 

We need to invest more in education and pursue innovation in education while we also consider what the in-demand skills are now and how we might expose kids to them earlier.

When it comes to closing the skills gap, I believe that K-12 is the sweet spot, so let's level up our early education. We need to invest more time in K-12 on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education. There is a pretty clear link between the amount of STEM education that kids receive and their college performance. 

One thing that we have been doing here at Tech Stars is bringing in 8th graders and pairing them up with our portfolio companies. The whole initiative began because one teacher had students interested in entrepreneurship and reached out to see if we could do something together. We've brought kids and entrepreneurs together in Boulder and New York so far, and the kids in both places were amazing. 

They asked fantastic questions and were hard workers. Many were already thinking about business. That's why I think it is so important to expose kids to opportunities like this. We must ask ourselves - how can we get more real world experiences for our students earlier?

One of the biggest failures of our educational system is the lack of exposure to real world work environments and the opportunity to see the application of classroom learning in the workplace for many kids until they are in college, or even worse, out of college and starting their first job.

One of the biggest areas of opportunity for our K-12 educational system are the possibilities that online learning can create by giving kids access to experts that an individual school might not otherwise be able to bring in. 

When you talk about the skills gap, one of the reasons it exists is that teachers don't always have the up-to-date knowledge and expertise needed to teach a particular in demand skill. But, someone somewhere has that knowledge, and virtual learning is one way to give kids access to that knowledge they need to learn so they can start practicing a certain skill. 

We must build out a better virtual learning infrastructure in this country. If kids can learn how to do surfing tricks and dance steps from YouTube, they can learn all kinds of other skills if we make the information and practice environments available.

One thing is for sure, the more we work to educate our kids, the more we'll find that they are also teaching us.

To learn more about the state of innovation around the world, explore the above Innovation Barometer 2012 data visualization »

David Cohen - David Cohen is the founder and CEO of TechStars, a mentorship-driven seed stage investment program for Internet startups. David is an active startup advocate, advisor, board member, and technology advisor who comments on these topics on his blog at You can find David on Twitter @davidcohen.

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