Monday, October 8, 2012

How to Interest Youth in IT Careers

High school sophomores from Louisiana and Arkansas participate in a robotics challenge during the 2012 Cyber Discovery Camp at Louisiana Tech University.
How can America better interest its youth in IT careers?
Although nearly all of teens and young adults report they "love" or "like" technology, only 18 percent say they have a "definite interest" in an IT career. These findings from CompTIA's recent study "Youth Opinions of Careers in Information Technology" point to a career interest gap that's especially troubling for the IT industry, given the amount of jobs that are currently going unfilled for lack of qualified candidates.
The IT career interest levels among girls and young women are especially low. Only 65% of females in the Youth Opinions survey reported that they "love technology," and only 9 percent report they are definitely interested in an IT career. In comparison, 82 percent of the males in the Youth Opinions study reported they love technology, with 26 percent definitely interested in a career in IT.
Youth interest resonates with technology-centric career such as video game design, mobile app development and web development—not necessarily a generic IT career. The top reasons youth gave for not being interested in an IT career were:
  • Don't know enough about the IT field (cited by 47%)
  • Not interested in IT (44%)
  • Not good at math/science (24%)
  • Don't want a job sitting behind a desk all day (21%)
  • Too expensive to go to school to get the required training (16%)
Educational programs across the country are tackling the problem in various ways, but the message is the same: IT is a highly viable and incredibly fascinating career.

Start Early with Hands-on IT Experiences and Info

A high school junior enrolled in South Bend's IT program demonstrates how to disassemble a computer to a freshman visitor. South Bend's IT program hosts "field trips" that allow teachers and students from around the district to visit its classrooms.
In some education systems, this is a matter of early and aggressive program promotion and recruitment.
For example, student ambassadors from Frederick County Career and Technology Center in Maryland regularly travel to elementary schools to tell younger students about the school's Computer Tech Analyst and Cisco Networking classes. Instructors and students from South Bend, Ind. Community School Corporation's four-year-old Information Technology Program undertake recruiting new students starting in middle school, and each year after that.
Getting girls excited about IT and its career opportunities at an early age is especially important, says South Bend IT Instructor Walt Jaqua. "By 10th grade, they're already in a clique and following friends into programs such as culinary or cosmetology."
Other programs bring hands-on IT experiences and curricula into the younger grades. These include Florida's new Middle School IT Career Academies and the camps and curricula from the Louisiana-based Cyber Innovation Center's National Integrated Cyber Education Research Center (NICERC).
This school year, as a part of a state pilot, Martin County School District in Stuart, Fla., opened three middle school Microsoft Information Technology Academies, small learning communities that in addition to normal middle school curricula will enable students to earn MS Office and entry-level Adobe certifications. "Students are starting earlier and earlier with technology," says Martin County CTE Program Administrator Constance Scotchel-Gross. "So we are bringing typically high school level courses down into middle school. They will be relevant tools for any occupation."
Students attending the new Middle School IT Career Academies can graduate into Martin County's high school IT academy, where they can earn CompTIA A+ and CompTIA Network+ credentials, plus Microsoft certifications.
The Cyber Innovation Center's NICERC instructs teachers on how to use its project-driven, application-based STEM curricula in formal settings like high school and middle school classrooms and in informal settings like NICERC's robotics competitions and Cyber Discovery camps. NICERC's goal is to train teachers not only to teach STEM principles, but also problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, and communication skills.  "We must change the way we engage students in a classroom," contends G.B. Cazes, vice president of the Cyber Innovation Center. "We don't know what problems kids will face in the future, so we better teach them how to think."

Integrate Career Prep with College Prep

Students assemble computer systems from new, boxed components during the "Project Build" highlight of South Bend, Ind. Community School Corporation's first year Information Technology Program. The first year, IT students are training for PC tech support and CompTIA A+ certification.
In some high schools, IT training programs operate separate from a college-bound curriculum; IT class times and locations can prevent students from including college prep courses in their schedules, for example. But many programs are building college preparatory learning and credits into IT career prep.
In both high school and middle school, students in Martin County's IT Career Academies are taught by a core group of teachers that include not only IT instructors, but also science, social studies, math and language arts instructors. In South Bend, the IT program was recently mandated to incorporate language arts and math objectives and learning into its IT curricula. "Technology lends itself well to that integration," says Jaqua.
Many IT programs offer dual credit options, so students can earn high school and college credits, in addition to industry certifications. For example, the Frederick County CTC IT program enables students to earn the CompTIA A+ certification, and Cisco's CCENT and CCNA certifications, plus college credits recognized by nearby Frederick Community College and Stevenson University.
Still, some parents and even some district guidance counselors don't always recognize that CTC's IT program is for college-bound students, says Jim Dorsch, instructor for Frederick County's Computer Technician Analyst class. "So we keep pounding home the message: If you come here you're going to get college credit, get certifications and be able to go on to college."
Parents are typically "blown away" once they learn what Frederick County CTC's IT program offers. "We know the value is there," says Dorsch. "We need to make sure everyone knows about it and that they should take advantage of it."
Many IT instructors see career prep as a mandatory requirement for college prep, given these tough economic times. "My kids are getting jobs because I'm preparing them to get jobs," says Jaqua. "One of the reasons I push my students to get these jobs is that they are going to have to work when they get to college."

Teach Students What It Takes to Earn a Living

Some IT instructors report that young people arrive in their programs with a lack of motivation, poor discipline and/or weak problem solving skills. High school students frequently want an IT job when they sign up for Ed Spink's IT classes, a part of the Center for Workforce Development program at Monroe 2-Orleans Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) in Spencerport, N.Y. "But they're unaware about the discipline they have to have within themselves to get it," says Spink.
Mark Hibner, who frequently has high school graduates drop out of his IT certification training classes at the publicly funded Baldwin Park (Calif.) Adult Education center, believes students' understanding of how to earn a living needs to start "in the home," and that "students need to have more internships and apprentice-oriented activity" in high school. Introducing students to career options early and often can build motivation for and excitement about IT careers, he believes.
Martin County's IT career academies have forged relationships with local businesses for job shadowing, internships (paid and unpaid) and guest lectures.
Students need real-world information about career options early, Spink says. "There should be more workshops, in 7th and 8th grade, in which industry people explain to students what it's like to work in this environment and provide honest outlooks about future opportunities."
"We have to demystify the whole IT career thing," adds Jaqua, the South Bend instructor. "There are hundreds of possible IT careers. We need to find what in IT sparks the interest in these kids and let them know what's available to them. We need to be getting students at a younger age, letting them play with technology and introducing them to where technology and technology careers can take them."

Align IT Programs to local Workforce Opportunities

Aligning an IT program with local workforce opportunities and needs is a big picture goal that can become a rallying point for the education system and local business community. Its potential benefits include:
  • An IT program that trains students on market relevant, in-demand skills
  • Improved relationships with local business/industry
  • Greater student exposure to the business world and IT career opportunities
  • Greater opportunity for local student internships and jobs
  • Greater business community support (financial and in-kind) for the IT program
Martin County Career & Technical Education involves business partners with its Academies' strategic planning. "Funding is always difficult, but if there's a will, there's always a way," says Scotchel-Gross. "It takes time to build those advisory committees, but once you develop your business partnerships and advisors, they will help you."

Create "Landing Spots" for Students

IT instructors like Dorsch and Jaqua frequently cultivate ties with local businesses to help place their students in internships and jobs. Such IT-centric landing spots—in the workplace and also in higher education—give students opportunities and goals to strive for. They also validate the worth of an IT training program.
Some programs reach out at multiple levels. For example, the mission of the Cyber Innovation Center's NICERC, based in Bossier City, La., is to "build a sustainable knowledge-based workforce that can support the needs of government, industry, and academia." As such, NICERC has built "landing spot" connections at all points, including local middle schools and high schools; the Cisco Academy and other IT programs at Bossier Parish Community College; Louisiana Tech University's math, engineering and science programs; local businesses and government agencies.
"We're breaking down silos," says Cazes. "Everyone's getting on the same page and pulling in the same direction."

No comments:

Post a Comment