The growing dissatisfaction of college graduates. Source McGraw Hill Education Workforce Readiness survey.
The pandemic has jolted the educational paradigm and there are some overdue changes being wrestled with to meet student needs. Every single administrator in every single school has had to think about how content deliveries will be made in our isolated states. I’ve consumed many educational articles, webinars, and panel discussions and see a scramble to offer teaching under plan A, B, and C depending on the severity of the pandemic. People are weighing in with advice on financials, logistics, and content. But in the majority of these discussions, I find that students are the least consulted group. Although I’ve been an Esri Business Partner for 23 years, I have also been intimately involved in the EdTech community and wanted to bring into focus what the new GIS learner wants.
A technical industry HR problem
Let’s start with a major pain point that technical companies have. By and large we can lump GIS into the IT industry with a variety of computing based roles. Code.org reports that 67% of all new jobs require computing skills yet only 11% of college graduates have a degree in an IT related field. If you are in a hiring position in any technical field in the US, this is a well known problem. I have interviewed about 50 GIS managers and every single one of them finds it difficult to hire someone with the mix of IT and Geography skills to help support a map system rather than just making a map. In various industries, it’s known as the ‘skills gap’. Graduating seniors possess skills X, but human resources staff are hiring skills Y. It’s of national interest to decrease this gap and many companies in the EdTech sector are working to address this.
Who teaches the GIS technology?
Not only are there less graduates with technical degrees, but the skills they possess are limited. In most academic environments it can be tough to learn the latest technical applications. A primary reason is that technology evolves really quickly so it’s impractical to expect the broad spectrum of professors to keep up. So they bring you very nicely. Google, Apple, and IBM know this and no longer require a degree to hire people in their technical departments because they can’t wait around for the college graduate who ends up needing an immense amount of on-the-job training. The pandemic has forced families to look to new sources of education and make more decisions about how they will learn beyond the 4 walls of a classroom.
What is the new GIS student looking for
A survey by College Pulse says 6 in 10 college students say that the credential was one of the most important reasons they are in college. Yes, having a certifying body say you stuck it out and got your degree is a good thing. Students want real experiences. This is why everyone’s study abroad semester is rated as their favorite semester in college. And internships are deemed so valuable. Students like peer-2-peer learning. We have always learned more outside of class than in class. After you get some professor inspiration, you learn and teach others in your peer group projects. And finally, students like real-time access. The best tools in the world for learning are Google and YouTube. Show me the 5min video that teaches me how to replace my car’s dead headlamp rather than giving me a semester in car mechanics like I took in high school. I would say that most of us have valued these characteristics no matter when you graduated. But the key difference is that the new GIS student has options outside of a stovepipe education where you typically accept the institution, tuition, and whatever professor that walks in the door of their classroom.
Students figuring out a bootstrapped path to the technical skills they need.
What are your learning options
If you ask around, you’ll find that not everyone starts out with a computer science or GIS science degree. I know that an equal number of my colleagues got degrees in other areas and then found their way to some GIS training that got them interested in our field. This accidental discovery has created an eclectic audience that makes up the GIS community. So let’s examine your options to prepare yourself for many good jobs in GIS.
1 The Geography degree
GIS is a multibillion dollar industry which has driven the growth of geography programs all around the country in 4 year universities. Yes, it’s a marketable field. And yes, degrees show you how to think in an open ended fashion about lots of things. But it’s possible you got a degree in another discipline and a single class is not enough so you look for more.
2 The GIS Certificate
The certificate is a more focused dive into GIS. Forget about all non GIS courses so you can get working faster. At community colleges, you’ll find courses are commonly taught by adjuncts that do have experience in industry which is a good thing. The curriculums are pretty standard with classes in Intro to GIS, Cartographic Methods, and Spatial Analysis. They get you in the game but maybe not on top of the game as these provide a foundation rather than higher level marketability. I authored a 20 chapter class on Applied Cartographic Concepts, but I wouldn’t advise any of my new students wanting to be more marketable to take my class.
The outcome of the pandemic is that more schools will look for ways to partner with industry talent to offer microcredentials to complement their degree. This is the best combination. You’ll ‘Spotify’ your education by making your own playlist of places to learn from. You might get a web architect certification on AWS to learn cloud. You might take the specialty certification tests from ESRI on things like AGOL, Python, or Utility Network. Or you might go to Bootcamp GIS to practice mirrored skills with high level industry practitioners that use GIS in a real project. There you can buy an individual course or several to build your own online GIS certificate. Then I suggest joining some LinkedIn groups and local GIS groups to network with people. Together, this is a recipe for success.
Isn’t that a cool idea to have the power to ‘build your own degree in GIS’. We know that the new GIS student lives the ‘Spotified’ life every day choosing which music, news, and food they consume with precision. I foresee many students making their way successfully and free of debt in this same manner if they deviate from the typical college path which is like a vinyl record where you are forced to pay for the entire album and get 2 good songs and 8 so-so songs that you want to skip. I’m confident that industry needs, financial forces, and EdTech innovations are going to offer some efficient pathways into our industry so that students can walk past the vinyl.
Andres Abeyta is Executive Director of Bootcamp GIS based in San Diego, CA. For 23 years, he has been the leading curriculum developer, elearning architect, and GIS instructor for most of the Federal agencies in the US. He has been travelling the world presenting new ideas as part of selective EdTech innovation programs. He has co-authored a new upper tier course list, https://platform.bootcampgis.com/courses, that represents an array of thought leadership from around the world.
Have you started setting your goals for 2021? With this crazy and unpredictable year coming to an end, I know I’m ready to challenge myself in new and exciting ways!
To begin setting your goals, first look back on your personal and professional accomplishments of 2020 to reflect on what went well. Ask yourself questions like “What new skills did I learn or discover? What did I enjoy doing that I wasn’t expecting? How did I spend my free time?” You may have had more time on your hands to pursue new opportunities. Whether they were hobbies or professional achievements, you probably learned new skills that had an impact on how you want to spend your time in the future.
As you consider your goals for 2021, remember to:
Some goal suggestions to get started:
We conducted a quick poll to determine the status of remote / home office workers commercial and public agency organizations.
80% of organizations report that 50% or more of their employees are working from remote / home office locations.
75% -100% staff work remote 59%
50% - 74% staff work remote 21%
25% - 49% staff work remote 9%
0% -24% staff work remote 12%
In some instances, employers are allowing remote office locations to continue as long as the employee wants to and return full-time, part-time, or not at all, at their discretion.
Of course, there are some job categories where this would not be possible such as aircraft mechanics and surveyor field technicians. But, we have become an electronic industry which allows many, such as GIS Technicians, to work from a remote office location.
Do we work better online?
A summary of a New York Times article 6-28-20
By David Gelles
© The New York Times Co.
When the online learning company Chegg started working remotely in March, Nathan Schultz, a senior executive, was convinced that productivity would plummet 15% to 20%.
Hoping to keep his employees on task, Schultz tried to re-create the high-touch style of management that had served him well throughout his career. He set up a Slack channel with his two closest deputies, where they began communicating incessantly, even as they spent hours a day in the same Zoom meetings. He began regularly checking in on many of the other members of his team.
“The first reaction was to smother,” he said. “I was trying to replicate the many touch points you have in the office environment.”
It didn’t work. Schultz himself soon felt burned out, and he could tell that his constant online presence was not very popular with his employees. So, he eased off.
Then something surprising started happening. Projects were completed ahead of schedule. Workers volunteered to take on new tasks. Instead of falling into a rut and losing focus in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Chegg employees became more productive.
Companies, too, are discovering that processes and procedures they previously took for granted — from lengthy meetings to regular status updates — are less essential than once imagined. And although some executives are concerned about burnout as working from home continues, they are enjoying the gains for now.
“We’re seeing an increase in productivity,” said Fran Katsoudas, Cisco’s chief people officer.
Most of Cisco’s employees have been working from home for months, and Katsoudas said data showed many were accomplishing more. For example, according to the company’s tracking, customer service representatives are taking more calls and customers are more satisfied with
At Eventbrite, the engineering team is thriving, while the sales and customer service teams are having a harder time working from home, the chief executive, Julia Hartz, said.
Hartz said that her customer service team worked in a more collaborative manner, and that Eventbrite’s representatives missed being able to trade tips on how to handle different situations.
“It’s never the same call,” she said. “Our office is open. There’s a bullpen-type feel. You can turn your chair around and all face each other and share ideas or share the stress with your coworkers. You can’t do that remotely.”
Satya Nadella, the chief executive of Microsoft, lamented the loss of in-person interactions, even as he said productivity was ticking up.
Nadella said he worried that companies like Microsoft were “burning some of the social capital we built up in this phase where we are all working remote.”
Douglas Merritt, the chief executive of Splunk, an enterprise software company, questioned whether the appearance of busy remote workers was leading to actual gains.
“There’s a big difference between activity and productivity,” he said. “There’s no doubt that our employee population is not performing at the same level they were.”
At Chegg, 86% of employees said their productivity was as good as or better than before, according to an internal survey. They attributed the uptick to not commuting and not having boundaries to the workday.
Recently, Schultz’s team completed a project for Verizon in 15 days that he said would have taken a month during normal times.
As a Civil Engineer job recruiter, we have seen that many candidates try to find greener pastures by job hopping with multiple companies. Having a track record of constant job changes in the civil design profession can often be discredited. Some selective industries may be considered acceptable, but not within the civil engineering profession. There are plenty of legitimate reasons people change companies, but if you are one who is constantly searching for a better opportunity, you might press pause and reconsider your decision. Here is why:
As of December 2019, the United States unemployment rate was at 3.5 percent and the number of unemployed persons was at 5.8 million. A year earlier, the jobless rate was 3.9 percent, and the number of unemployed persons was 6.3 million. Generally, the ideal unemployment rate is 4.5 percent.
What does the current unemployment rate mean for Job Seekers?
Are you looking for a job? If so, this is a great time for you to be on the job hunt! We are currently in a job seeker’s market. Now is the time to get out there to review the plethora of jobs that are available. Since fewer people are looking for a job, you will most likely have more job offers to choose from.
Conversely, employers may have trouble with their hiring since we are in such a tight labor market. Since job seekers have their choosing for whichever position they are most interested in, retaining the best talent is becoming more difficult for companies. They may see more job-hopping occurring, and there is a higher level of competition.