Educating the leaders of tomorrow through coding and communications skills

  • The Aspen Difference
Kristina Scala

It was almost 37 years ago that Time magazine named the personal computer “Man of the Year.” Since then, massive shifts in technology have revolutionized the way we do business. From email and the internet to artificial intelligence and blockchain, tomorrow’s workforce has grown up during decades that include this rapidly shifting technology. The days of rotary phones and dial-up internet connections are long gone. As business leaders, the skills we look for in the workplace are dramatically different and ever-changing.

Workplace skills necessary in 2020 and beyond

The World Economic Forum notes that the workplace of 2020 (that’s next year) requires skills including “complex problem solving,” “critical thinking,” “creativity,” and “judgment and decision making.” Coding is one way to learn this set of skills. In May, during a visit to an Apple Store in Orlando, CEO Tim Cook dismissed the need for a four-year degree for coding, a statement noteworthy for both educators and business leaders.

What can be done

Leaders and educators have experienced a shift toward addressing the heightened need for skills like coding and programming. China has answered the call for computer skills, awarding 1.65 million bachelor’s degrees in STEM subjects in 2014, more than double the number awarded to American graduates. Despite that, research shows that undergraduate students studying computer science in the U.S. outperform students in China, India and Russia.

Are we addressing these needs fast enough? And, are we incorporating the so-called soft skills needed in companion with these technical skills that create the rich and robust culture necessary to accomplish big challenges? In addition to all the technical and analytical skills the World Economic Forum notes, they also include “people management,” “coordinating with others” and “emotional intelligence.” With this unique cluster of skills, we’re asking humans to be positive and productive in building relationships, and blend that with the ability to solve complex problems through analytical thought.

Here are three ways business leaders can equip students to thrive in workplaces beyond 2020.

1. Equip the workforce with analytical and coding skills.

We must be open to equipping our current workforce with even more analytical thinking and coding skills — and we must do so now. In the race to compete worldwide, STEM and STEAM curriculum is now being integrated into classrooms in elementary schools around the U.S. We can successfully begin teaching coding fundamentals to 4-year-olds, and we set the expectation that sixth graders can be proficient in coding. This response needs to happen across the existing workforce.

2. Make leadership development and collaboration necessary parts of early education.

There are countless consultants, courses and coaches supporting business leaders and entrepreneurs in developing leadership skills. Future business leaders need to cultivate intentional thinking skills and intentional relationship skills to contribute to the workplace in the coming decades, and that should start in early education. While some of the technical skills necessary may shift, the power to lead, collaborate and inspire others is not going away. In the same way that education has responded with STEM and STEAM initiatives, character and leadership development must become more prominent in our work, lives and early education.

3. Build a bridge between coding and collaboration.

One way to connect these skills is by fostering an entrepreneurial and ownership mindset in employees. In education, when we equip students to design, build and run their own businesses, we see their practical application of analytical skills and leadership. They learn their strengths, and the strengths of those around them. They become more connected to the idea that their thoughts can be things. In businesses, the same is true.

The ability to think pays off.

With AI on the forefront of business, analytical skills are more necessary than ever. The ability to think analytically pays off — literally. In 2016, the Pew Research Center shared American workplace trends in their report “The State of American Jobs.” They noted in their findings that earnings for workers in jobs requiring higher social and analytical skills had risen “proportionately more than the earnings of those in jobs requiring higher levels of physical skills.” This should be the focus of education: to equip students with the skills they need to thrive in the workplace of the future, and to be job creators.

I recently judged a business plan competition where an eighth grade student was awarded a monetary prize for the best business plan and pitch. She now has a functioning business to carry forward into high school. She created an app parents can use to identify sports teams for their children to participate in. When asked the about skills she learned, she noted, “I had to learn coding skills … quickly.”

As business leaders and educators, we have the opportunity to inspire countless leaders of the future. We must all be futurists, anticipating the needs of the workplace of the future and responding with education that equips students to thrive.

The article above first appeared on July 10, 2019 in the Denver Business Journal.


About the Author

Kristina Scala is the Founder and President of Aspen Academy (an innovative and award-winning private school in Greenwood Village, CO), Aspen Youth Leadership Institute, Aspen Entrepreneurial Institute, Aspen Academy Investment Fund, Bear’s Student Enterprises, and MODI. Scala is a thoughtful and creative leader, passionate entrepreneur, enthusiastic educator and master facilitator who presents on topics of education and personal, leadership, entrepreneurial, and parenting development. She works to inspire and motivate people to live a purposeful and authentic life through being kind, doing good, and making the world better through what we think, say, and do.