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How We Use Employer Insights to Drive Stronger Student Outcomes in Tech Boot Camps

Written by Jennifer K. Henry on Sep 11, 2020

Related content: Outcomes

I’ve spent nearly four years leading the Career Services team for 2U-powered boot camps, a team whose primary purpose is to help our boot camp graduates become employer competitive so they can begin to build the career of their dreams. Employer competitive means different things to different industries, which is why much of my team’s focus is dedicated to connecting with visionary leaders of innovative tech companies who are on the lookout for the next crop of talented tech professionals. We listen to their talent needs and create strategic partnerships to meet their workforce demands with highly-skilled boot camp professionals. In return, we ask for employer feedback on what makes a job candidate employer competitive.

Over the years, we’ve collected insights from more than 1,000 of our industry partners. So what are these tech employers telling us is needed to become employer competitive? What skills do boot camp learners need to jumpstart their tech careers? Is it SQL, Node, Python, AWS? The answer might surprise you.

Employers continue to reiterate that soft skills matter just as much as hard skills. Sure, Java and Git and Agile Development remain important from the tech side of the equation. But equally important to the employers we work with are the very human skills that no computer, no artificial intelligence, no form of automation can replicate: leadership, management, critical thinking, creativity, empathy.

This insight is not just anecdotal. Studies have shown that a combination of human and tech skills will be critical to the future of the workforce, as automation and AI accelerate shifts in needed skills. McKinsey & Company released a report in 2018, “Skill shift: Automation and the future of the workforce,” which shows that the number of work hours that require social/emotional skills and technological skills will increase by over 20% and 50%, respectively.

To help students get ahead now and future-proof their careers in the booming yet competitive tech industry, both educators and learners should focus on marrying technical skill-building with the development of critical interpersonal skills. Tech-intensive programs should create, for example, opportunities for learners to gain experience working well with a team, present ideas clearly to an audience, and problem-solve with a partner, in addition to building applications using coding languages like Python or React.

At 2U, we apply this feedback directly to our partners’ boot camp programs. 2U-powered boot camps are intentionally designed to give learners the opportunity to develop both the hard and soft skills that employers want. Much of the work is team project-based and practice-oriented so that participants are neither working in isolation nor memorizing by rote. Instead, they are engaging and collaborating with a diverse set of peers and learning not what to think, but how to think—creatively and critically. Not simply what to do, but how to do it with others.

In our web development boot camp, for instance, students learn the most relevant tech skills (e.g., Javascript and React) that are needed for the most in-demand web development roles (e.g., full-stack, software, and back-end developer positions), and then use those skills alongside teammates to build three projects throughout the course. Over the years, we’ve seen thousands of incredible solutions built through these team efforts, from an app that combats gender bias to an improved website for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. Students consistently tell us that these experiences were critical in preparing them for the team-based environment they encounter in their first software development roles.

In addition to the growing importance of people skills, employers consistently report on how fast the tech skills they need are evolving. The feedback we request from employers, through surveys, interviews, and our ongoing partnership conversations, helps us discover what skills are most in demand and urgent for the industry. We then pass this information along to our boot camp curriculum engineers who ensure our programs continue to focus on the knowledge, skills, and abilities that align with ever-changing industry demand. Because of this feedback-based approach, our boot camps are not a static educational artifact. They are a constantly evolving and improving organism of continuous learning. I should know; my team helps with the dynamic iteration.

What all this information, insight, and data boils down to is the individual boot camp learner. That individual has made the bold decision to improve their life through learning, and my team’s job is to both help them on that journey, and to ensure every minute they spend learning is a minute well spent because it is exactly what employers are looking for. It’s a great feeling to be able to empower people with the knowledge and skills they need to follow their dreams. All the better when you know the insights you’ve collected will help them chart a course into the future of a tech-centered workforce that will demand the most human of skills.

To learn more from Jennifer K. Henry, register for HIR[ED]'s "How Are Bootcamps & Higher Ed Adjusting to COVID-19" panel Tuesday, September 15 from 2:45-3:30pm ET.

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