Steve Wozniak, aka Woz, the co-founder of what ultimately became the world’s most valuable company, Apple Inc., has announced that he is opening an online university, a learning platform for technical skills that will expand over time.

Woz U will focus on both students, as well as companies that can eventually hire these students. Students will be given access to online learning resources in the fields of computer support, software development, data science, mobile apps and cybersecurity. Eventually, Wozniak hopes to open physical centers of learning in more than 30 cities around the world. It is currently based in Arizona.

In addition, Woz U will put out platforms where companies can come in and recruit, or train/retrain their staff for new tech skills. There will also be a K-12 platform to identify budding talent and encourage students to choose a tech career by offering STEAM programs.

Wozniak said in a statement:

“Our goal is to educate and train people in employable digital skills without putting them into years of debt. People often are afraid to choose a technology-based career because they think they can’t do it. I know they can, and I want to show them how. My entire life I have worked to build, develop and create a better world through technology and I have always respected education. Now is the time for Woz U, and we are only getting started.”

The Word on the State of Technology Jobs

In the United States, tech talent is in dire need of a refresh. With new technologies emerging more rapidly than ever before, the dearth of skilled manpower is keenly felt by the IT departments of companies in several industries, and not just by technology companies.

According to the 11th Annual Talent Shortage Survey taken by ManPower Group, over the past few years, employers have reported talent shortages between 14% and a whopping 52%.

The tech talent shortage, however, has long been touted as a myth by major media outlets. Based on the findings of a study by the Economic Policy Institute in 2013, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic and other media companies all published articles highlighting the fact that the talent shortage was a myth. At the time, TechCrunch published an article in 2013 called “There Is In Fact A Tech-Talent Shortage And There Always Will Be”; two years later, however, TechCrunch published another article, and this one was called “The Tech Talent Shortage Is a Lie”.

Granted, they were both written by two different contributors, but on the same platform.

So what’s the reality with respect to tech talent? Is there a shortage or isn’t there?

One way to validate whether or not there’s an actual shortage is to look at hiring trends. In one case, isolated though it may be, the Flatiron School’s three-month coding boot camp typically sees a 98% hiring rate within 180 days, and average starting salaries are about $75,000 a year. In an environment without a talent shortage, such hiring rates would be impossible to achieve. And that, too, after candidates only having attended a 90-day boot camp for coding.

TechRepublic reported last November that, based on research from ManPower Group, 40% of employers worldwide faced talent shortages, and that shortage was primarily driven by demand for key IT roles.

What Part Does the Cost of Education Play?

Closer to home, the United States has been experiencing a steady increase in the cost of education. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), between 1985 and 2015, the average cost of tuition across all institutions (in constant currency) went up from $5,160 to more than $25,409, representing a five-fold increase.

In those same 30 years the Per Capita Personal Income (in constant currency) in America has gone up by a little more than 3 times.

There’s clearly a gross mismatch somewhere.

More to the point, that implies that student loans should be at an all-time high, and they are. In Q4 2016, according to data from the New York Federal Reserve, total student loan debt stood at a mind-numbing $1.31 trillion, making it the second highest consumer debt category. Default and delinquency rates were reported at 11.2%, and in Q4 2016 alone, total student loan debt rose by $31 billion over the year-ago period.

So, even if there’s no tech talent shortage now, there is very likely to be a huge gap in the future. Many argue that the gap is already here, and has been for some time.

The point I’m getting at here is that Woz U is a brilliant initiative to help promote more affordable technical education for those who can’t afford to go to a brick and mortar university or don’t want to be burdened with a massive student loan that they have a one in ten chance of defaulting on.

This is a small project right now, but we hope that it will gain more financial and moral support over time. Wozniak revolutionized the computing industry with his friend Steve Jobs so many years ago. Is it now time for him to revolutionize the technical education landscape? He certainly thinks so, and so do we.

Our hats off to Steve Wozniak for his strong commitment to making technical education more accessible to the masses. Even a little success in this area can go a long, long way.

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