Studying while juggling work and family commitments

Kids making noise and disturbing mom working

Warning: This post is a bit of a rant. Enter Ethnically-Diverse Girl Tux on a her Soapbox!

It’s a well-known fact that there is a global digital skills shortage. This shortage affects all industries as they increasingly experience digital transformation. You can read more about this in Wiley’s Digital Skills Gap Index 2021.

This gap is certainly reflected in the Australian ICT sector in key skill shortages. Two such areas are Cyber Security and Artificial Intelligence.

In Australia most major universities have been recently offering fast-track courses in Cyber Security and Data Science in an effort to bridge this gap. I’ve been checking them out as I’m on a mission to keep my ICT skills current.

I’m working, handling home duties, and supervising two high-school students’ distance learning (this is because of the remote location we live in). I have done the math, and know I can manage an 8-10 hour study commitment per week. I also know from past – but recent – experience that 8-10 hours is generally the commitment required, per subject, for an Australian undergraduate semester-based university course. So I headed happily to Aussie university websites to research course offerings.

My personal criteria were:

  1. Postgraduate coursework in either Artificial Intelligence (or related area) or Cyber Security.
  2. Delivered entirely online.
  3. Allowing one subject to be studied at a time.
  4. 8-10 hour commitment per subject per week.

It wasn’t an easy as I thought. Most courses that met the first three criteria failed to meet the fourth. Many turned out to be fast-track courses in Data Science or Cyber Security with a minimum 20 – 24 hour commitment per week, albeit for a fewer number of weeks per year compared to traditional semester based courses.

A 20-24 hours per week study commitment is simply impossible for me. To put it in context, someone working full-time in the Australian ICT sector would be expected to commit to 38 – 40 work hours per week. A 20 – 24 hour commitment per week is effectively half-time – a significant commitment.

I tried to negotiate a lighter study load with two universities. This was unsuccessful. In fact one student advisor assured me that the fast-track post-graduate course under discussion had several students who were successfully working full-time, AND engaging with the coursework. I felt a bit of a dunce as I was clearly incapable of handling life the way my peers were able to.

Once I got off the phone though, I started to think. What demographics did these students par excellence fall into? Was their employer giving them time off in order to study? (My previous employer would frequently do so for employees wanting to upskill in the industry.) Were these students actively parenting? Or were they parenting as a couple? That is, they had partners handling parenting and home-duties so these students were freed up to study?

Note that in my hunting I did discover some courses with the 8-10 per subject per week commitment – but only for on-campus enrollments. I.e, they didn’t meet my personal criterion # 2 above.

Confession: I felt annoyed. Here were very reputable higher-education institutions, offering important ICT skills training, that were difficult for people like me to access. People who are juggling work, parenting and home-duties. People like me who are (almost inevitably) female, mid-career and looking to upskill or reskill.

And I get why. Statistically speaking, there aren’t many like me around. The Australian Computer Society’s Digital Pulse 2022 finds that, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ 2021 census, women make up 31% of the Australian technology sector, compared to 46% of other professional services sectors. Therefore resourcing mid-career females in ICT who are juggling multiple things is simply not commercially rewarding since there are so few of us across a wide range of ICT fields.

But here’s the rub. We talk a lot about attracting women into the ICT sector. But if we truly want women in ICT, it can’t just stop at attracting young women into the industry. It also has to be about keeping women in ICT by encouraging ongoing skill development. This means resourcing women where they are at – whether in or out of work, whether as singles or not, whether parenting singly or jointly, whether relatively free of responsibility or caring for dependents, whether managing a business or as an employee, whether as new entrants into the industry or mid-career professionals or as those close to retirement. You could probably add to this list.

This isn’t just a bad news story though. I kept on hunting, and thankfully found two Australian universities who offer a course meeting all four of my criteria above. I’m applying to study next year, and hoping I will be accepted!

So, what do you think? I’ve written here about the Australian scene, because that’s what I’m familiar with. Please feel free to leave a comment about what you have experienced in this and other geographic locations.

Featured image by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels.com.

6 thoughts on “Studying while juggling work and family commitments

  1. It’s an interesting post, but … and don’t shoot me down here, is it a problem that is gender related or parenting related? If your parenting roles were changed with those of your partner, would the same issue exist?

    I fully appreciate the study time involved. I’ve always been in a fortunate position where my wife did the parenting, allowing me to get the skills to improve my career. I didn’t get the chance of college or university for study, all learned on the coal face. Even now every day is a school day, so many things I don’t know, and always spending many hours learning. So be prepared not to put away your studies when term ends, or you graduate. The IT business is ever-changing, and ever-growing.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Warlord, thank you for your comment! Some great points, and I appreciate the different perspectives you’ve brought here to what was, essentially, a rant on my part 😊.

      First, completely true. The example I have given of my experience isn’t a gender-related issue but a parenting-related issue. For instance, a few years ago it would have been my partner (who incidentally is male) who would have been in this situation. I was working full time, he was juggling study and home duties. It was tough! So as a couple we’ve experienced both sides of this gender-wise. However we also found that we were in the minority among the couples we were rubbing shoulders with. For many female friends in heterosexual relationships, it did become a gender-related issue because they were the supporting partner, juggling work and home duties, and trying to fit professional skill development into it. (The discussion also is broader than needs around parenting – but I’ll leave it there for now.)

      Second, good on you for learning skills on the coal-face! When hiring in my former organisation, we as a team always valued experience over the piece of paper with a qualification. No dollar figure can be put on what we learn by doing. And yes, IT is ever-evolving. You lose it if you don’t keep learning! I guess the value of doing a formal course is when it isn’t possible to learn at the coal-face (eg, if one wants to ‘side-skill’ – an organisation isn’t going to pay someone to skill up in an unrelated area).

      Thank you again for your comments, they keep this discussion balanced.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I’m from the UK and I’ll comment on the study aspects later, but wanted to respond here about the gender/parenting issue. In the UK, because this is considered a parenting/childcare issue and, as you indicated, most people in this position are women, it would be considered a gender issue. Irrespective of whether a man or woman is the parent and experiencing these barriers, it would make it see/gender discrimination

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Karmi! A couple of digital skills gap reports I read would agree – software engineering and database management skills were listed as some of the most wanted skills. And Python is used in a lot of AI-related applications.

      Thank you for contributing to this discussion!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I teach Human Resource Management so can’t directly relate to the education of IT courses. However I would imagine that if there is sufficient demand, there will be courses available… such as the two you identified. I would say generally that the study/learning commitment of an undergraduate course will be lower than a postgraduate course.

    I deliver on professional HR courses at both levels. Not fast track. Out undergrad looks for 10hrs a week;the postgraduate is 15.

    Have you considered other alternatives? Does it need to be a classroom based course? Could you do an equivalent qualification through distance learning etc?

    I do agree with your comments about skills shortages. Addressing skills shortages need to be addressed via a range of measures … political as well as educational. But employers need to do their part too.

    Finally, I wanted to say good luck with your application and your studies. Many of my students are in the same position – balancing work, family and studies. I know how challenging it can be, but I also know how their careers progressed/developed as a result of their studies

    Liked by 1 person

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