Technology in all of its forms continues to drive the world forward. Coding, engineering, robotics, the list is continuously growing. Industries that once were dependent on physical labor are now turning to new systems and technologies to ensure their businesses remain competitive well into the future. However, finding individuals with the right skills to fill these positions remains a challenge.
A 2016 Oracle Academy report, prepared by Burning Glass Technologies, found that there were nearly 7 million jobs that required coding skills in 2015, and projected that it would be the most in-demand skill until at least 2025.
There will be plenty of opportunities across a wide range of fields from industrial engineering to healthcare to app development that will rely on an army of new coders, who will be paid handsomely for their services.
But the phrase "learn to code" has morphed into a platitudinal career advice for aimless teens and taunt to laid off journalists. Not everyone can sit down with a "Java for Dummies" book and cup of joe and start their journey to a six-figure salary. It takes discipline, structure and a paradigm shift in how schools look at education in the 21st century.
There's one such place doing that now in Arizona. The Phoenix Coding Academy, opened in 2016, focuses on providing students (many from low-income families) with actionable skills and real-world experience to get them ready for a career outside the classroom. It is one of the first public high school of its kind, with a goal of creating a learning community to engage students in computer science pathways and other innovative academic experiences.
The unique approach Phoenix Coding Academy takes to their curriculum has a far-reaching impact on their students ability to be of value to employers, right out of school. Using the mindset of integrating subjects such as English into computer science, they are developing actionable skills that will fit in with today's workforce needs. For example, when building a server or creating new software that requires written documentation, teachers integrate English lessons as part of the software development process.
Eva Lancaster, President of HamiltonBuhl, manufacturer of educational products and technologies, recently visited the school that seeks to bridge the computer science skills gap and found it was already inducing immediate results.
"These kids were so engaged," she explains. "And the dropout rate was much lower."
Along with embedding coding into other subjects, the school also has 3D printers, a maker space, and two science labs for hands-on advanced manufacturing experience.
"The main thing we were looking for is students' interest in technology, and then a real genuine interest in being active participants in their education," Principal Seth Beute told the Phoenix New Times when the school opened.
It's not just a benefit for the students.
“Local companies are already recruiting the students right out of high school,” Lancaster says. “The students are given an environment where their interests can be explored and they can flourish in a school with like-minded individuals.”
Phoenix Coding Academy wasn’t developed out of thin-air. The principal read a grim report on how United States as a whole was lacking in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) talent. This same report also mentioned the lack of Hispanic or African Americans in those fields—the exact population his district serves. In addition, he was aware of multiple local high tech struggling to find qualified talent.
These high-tech companies were at a point that they would need to relocate because the skills gap in the area was so severe. After the principle put the proposal together and showed the value a school like this could bring to the community, they were able to move forward with constructing Phoenix Coding Academy.
In the current climate where companies are constantly seeking individuals with skills that allow them to walk through the doors on their first day and begin producing, a school like Phoenix Coding Academy is invaluable. From building servers in the classroom to developing their own AI, these students are exactly what businesses are seeking. There is a critical need to offer students hands-on experiences with real-world technology in today's classrooms, and this school takes that concept to an entirely new level. However, all public schools have the ability to prepare students for the world outside the class.
HamiltonBuhl has developed important STEM and STEAM products for the K-12 space, helping students develop the right skills for today's workforce: 4-axis robotic arms, modular coding kits, scaleable robotics systems and media production kits are all available.
School districts outside the Phoenix area can acquire these products and curricula to get a head-start on tomorrow's challenges students will face. Phoenix Coding Academy has already seen immense success with their programs, paying attention to the problems businesses face today. Now, it’s time for the rest of the country to take action and begin exploring ways to provide their students with knowledge that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.