Silicon Alley: The Road to Tomorrow’s Workforce

Tuesday, November 12, 2013
by Salem Tsegaye
Philanthropy Fellow, Arts & Historic Preservation,
and Graduate Student, MA Design Studies,
Silicon Alley, our City’s tech sector (and the nation’s second-largest), sounds like the younger, grittier version of its West Coast sibling. Maybe this youth and grit can serve as a metaphor for the trend we’re witnessing through digital media learning as it shifts our educational models.
It is no coincidence that key words at Philanthropy New York’s recent digital media discussion included youth, education and workforce development. With an emerging sector comes a new workforce, and who better than our City’s youth to fill these slots? The question then becomes how — how can we train the next gen of Silicon Alley employees and entrepreneurs?
The good news: a lot is happening. The New York City Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Readiness is working with public and private agencies to offer high school students college- and career-readiness skills and access to broadband Internet. That’s critical to digital literacy. Even more exciting, our City’s nonprofits are engaging youth in hands-on, out-of-school activities to create experiential learning spaces. Take, for instance, Parsons and MOUSE’s gadgITERATION workshops supported by the Hive Digital Media Learning Fund in The New York Community Trust, which help students learn how to program and hardwire stuffed animals, transforming them into animate clapping machines. The opportunity to improve digital literacy by hacking a teddy bear could be the spark a high school freshman needs to pursue higher education in technology, perhaps enrolling at Cornell NYC Tech in four years, in time for the opening of its new Roosevelt Island campus. Intertwining academic excellence with commercial success and societal good, Cornell Tech emphasizes application in learning by engaging students with practitioners and requiring projects with organizations off campus.
Next, we need to focus on workforce development. The Partnership for New York City cited the skills gap between new tech jobs and what young people are being taught. More students are going to need at least associates degrees to succeed in tech.  It’s clear the philanthropic and tech sectors aren’t coordinating enough. We can start by encouraging startups to serve as job training sites for the City’s talented young adults; or maybe our next mayor can find creative ways to build on Bloomberg’s legacy.
In the meantime, we can continue to promote Silicon Alley for all its youth and grit — youthful in that it still has room to grow, and gritty in its unconventional approach. In any case: rest assured, the City paves the way.