Learning New Skills Can Change Your Life

Part III: Overcoming Economic Barriers

While Girls Who Code and The Last Mile provide access to skill-building resources to counter institutional inequalities, a nonprofit called Bit Source is using skill-based education to address economic changes that have impacted entire populations. As the nation’s coal industry has collapsed, Kentucky in particular has been hit hard; this past spring, coal jobs in the state fell to the lowest level since 1898. Left behind by the fall of coal production and the changing job market, the former mine workers at Bit Source in Pikeville, Kentucky upgraded their skill sets by learning app, game, software, and web programming and design. This training has enabled these displaced workers to refocus their passion and revitalize their careers.

Michael Harrison, right, at BitSource, an internet start-up in Pikeville, Ky. Credit George Etheredge for The New York Times.

While skill-based education is changing the world by leveling the playing field, it also has the potential to close the skills gap. On a national level, this gap — between those employers want and those applicants have — is widening: the United States currently has 5.6 million job openings, a near record high, and 7.8 million unemployed citizens. Experts predict that if the gap isn’t bridged by 2020, there could be up to 25 million vacant jobs in all fields combined. The gap could shrink if job seekers, be they new graduates or experienced professionals, start to take skills development into their own hands.

Free online courses are ideal for those who are digitally proficient and operate on their own schedule, with the majority of online classes allowing students to go at an individualized, flexible pace. As a result of all the new and accessible options for online education, every type of learner has the opportunity to acquire new skills and create a brighter and broader future for themselves on their own terms.

Thanks to Milo Goodman for his contribution to this story.