As Digital Age technology continues to evolve, the expertise required to use it to its full potential must evolve with it. But even as the newest applications, tools, and services are providing businesses with new ways to gain a competitive edge, many organizations are struggling to find and hire the information technology professionals they need to plan for the future and navigate potential pitfalls. For young people who have grown up in the Digital Age and who are interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields this knowledge gap presents a unique opportunity. But even though approximately 59,600 students graduated with bachelor's degrees in computer and information sciences in the 2014-2015 academic year and survey results indicate that professionals with STEM-related degrees consistently out-earn those without them, the shortage of qualified candidates remains.
So, how can more students be encouraged to pursue careers in information technology? How can the IT industry and the businesses it serves spark students' imaginations and draw them toward the field? And how can organizations not just attract, but retain the young talent they need?
The future of the technical infrastructure that makes our modern world possible depends on our ability to answer these questions. Which is why TenFour decided to go directly to the source for some insight. At a recent event held in our Morristown office three students* from nearby Mount Olive High School visited with our team of computer engineers, network architects, and software developers to learn first-hand what it's like to work in this innovative and exciting industry.
In the case of Jessica, a senior on the verge of selecting a college and pursuing a degree in computer science, the IT industry isn't one she had considered when younger. "At first I wanted to go into a more science-focused career," Jessica explained. "But then I kind of decided that I like computers more and I saw a TV show, and I was like, 'Oh, that looks pretty cool. I'd rather be doing that.' So, I took a comp sci class and right now I'm taking another comp sci class."
For sophomore Angela, another young woman with a focus on computer science, media was on her mind as well. "If you see the commercials or ads for that kind of field, it's more men and stuff," she lamented. "Being a woman or girl… wanting to do it (myself) could help push a younger female audience to try it."
"In my comp sci class I'm the only girl," Jessica chimed in. "It was a bit discouraging. But I don't know. I feel like in a way, because I'm a girl there might be more opportunities for me."
"I'm in robotics, so we write things like joystick codes, selection codes, a GUI. We write autonomous codes so we have robots going in on their own – driving themselves," the third of our guests and another sophomore, Luke, explained. When asked what drives his interest he laughed. "It's fun to do… A lot of my friends do it too, so it's a lot of fun to program with them. It also looks good on the resume."
If the IT industry and businesses at large there are some important takeaways from these conversations:
- Representation matters. According to a 2014-2016 survey by the Pew Research Center, only approximately 25% of professionals in STEM jobs are women, a number that has steadily decreased over the last 15 years. Recruiting more women to the field will be integral to not only expanding the number of potential candidates and avoiding stagnation, but also to innovating creative ways to develop and use new technologies.
- Media portrayal matters. According to a recent study conducted by the University of South Carolina, despite the prevalence of technology in modern life, less than 4% of characters in popular media are depicted as interested in or using computer science. And even when computer science is featured, another study reveals that the portrayal is usually a stereotypical one of a white male programmer and girls and women are neglected. As it becomes increasingly more vital that students pursue careers in this field, the way in which it's portrayed in popular media could play a major role.
- Satisfaction matters. In a 2016 survey of workers in the tech industry, 71% of respondents indicated that they felt their career allowed for a good work/life balance. According to respondents, the opportunity to be creative, the family-friendly nature of many workplaces, and high salaries were all integral to feeling like their choice of career was the correct one. But although the many in the tech industry report satisfaction, there are also reports of widespread burnout. Organizations' ability to balance frustration with fun will be a key factor in attracting the newest talent.
- Opportunity matters. It's important to understand that the up-and-coming workforce has grown up with complex computer technology and is intimately familiar with its capabilities. As high school and college education have become more competitive, students are more aware than ever that to secure a successful future they must pursue a career in a successful industry, which has resulted in making tech the most popular industry for millennials. Graduates are hungry for opportunities in the field, which in turn creates an opportunity for CIOs to power their next business-differentiating initiative with a workforce more adept and passionate than ever before.
Luckily there are many pre-college programs out there designed to encourage young people to pursue careers in computer science and information technology. And research indicates that the more schools offer classes devoted to the coding, software development, and technical projects, the more likely students are to attend post-secondary programs focused on the field.
As artificial intelligence and automation reduce the number of routine tasks for which staff are responsible, the sophisticated knowledge it takes to manage these technologies will become increasingly critical to realizing their full potential. In the meantime, there's plenty of work to be done to encourage students and the IT industry would be smart to invest in their future wherever possible.
*The students' names have been replaced with pseudonyms to mask their identities.
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