Through the success of his education business General Assembly, Matthew Brimer has taught skills in website development, UX design, digital marketing and entrepreneurship to thousands around the world.

But there’s one skill that he says employers can’t get enough of.

“Data -- and data science -- is one of our biggest subject areas,” he told Information Age.

“Eight years ago, we didn’t have any data science courses.

“Big data was sort of a talked-about thing amongst the developer community, but it hadn’t hit the mainstream for job candidates.”

And it seems to be an area that everyone is looking to tap into.

“There’s a lot more interest in it from consumers who see this as a professional opportunity but also a huge interest more importantly from employers, who just cannot hire enough data professionals.

“Employers will say 'we need 50 data professionals'. Colleges aren’t producing them, but we [General Assembly] are.”

Brimer also lists cyber security, mobile development, product design and digital marketing as hot skills.

General Assembly

After trying his hand in the New York start-up scene shortly after the global financial crisis of 2007-08, Brimer started General Assembly in 2010 when he identified a shift in the employment market.

“You had a lot of people saying, ‘hmm, the economy is kind of a mess right now, it’s harder to get a job, maybe it’s time to join that start-up or work on that idea I have',” he reflects.

“And there was a larger set of people saying, ‘my resumé, cover letter and college degree isn’t enough to get me a job anymore, I need to take a more entrepreneurial approach to my career'.

“You’re also seeing digital technology transforming almost every industry in New York at this time.

“Employers and large companies were becoming more digitally oriented which meant they needed to hire more digital people – UX and UI designers, software engineers, product managers and data scientists.”

General Assembly now offers everything from immersive web development courses to self-paced digital marketing courses.

It has 20 campuses across six countries, including Sydney and Melbourne.

Staying agile

As well as providing individuals with the opportunity to acquire new skills, it is also helping professionals stay agile in the face of digital disruption.

“You can turn from a graphic designer into a mobile UI designer in just three months.”

Matthew Brimer (R) with City of Sydney Deputy Lord Mayor Linda Scott at the ACS Innovation Hub in Barangaroo. Source: ACS NSW

For Brimer, the purpose of General Assembly is to bridge the gap between what universities teach and the skills required in the digital economy.

“Generally speaking, universities and what they’re teaching remains relatively the same every year,” he says. “There’s some evolution but generally it’s teaching the same stuff over time.”

“But yet, the skills required in the digital economy today keep moving forward farther and farther, so there’s this increasing skills gap.

“I think this skills gap is around being able to do, not just think. At best, college enables you critical thinking skills and collaboration.

“But that’s not enough anymore.”

People working jobs for a shorter amount of time means employers don’t want to invest as much in training; they want people who can “come in and start doing”, he explains.

“For most people I know, two or three years is the standard gig time for a particular company, as opposed to 30 years,” Brimer says.

“What that means is it’s hard for employers to invest a lot of time and effort into someone, because rather than being around for the next decade, they’re going to leave in three years, almost guaranteed.

“So they need to bring someone in who is capable and can come in and go.”