Getting kids excited about working in IT is a personal passion for me, and I think that’s necessary for any CIO who gets involved - you have to put a lot of effort into it outside of your professional capacity. The return comes when you open up the students’ eyes to the fact that technology isn’t just coding - there are so many other jobs involved in creating new applications and solutions. That’s when they get excited.
You don’t have to shoulder the whole burden. There are programs and people to partner with; you just have to find them. Several members of my management team were attending graduate classes at Columbia University. If they hadn’t brought me the ideas of one of the professors for getting kids into the IT workforce, we never would have become partners. Columbia couldn’t do it on their own; they needed companies to help. We were the first to sponsor the university’s Workforce Outsource Services program, which provides high school students the opportunity to attend a 16-week certification program. It includes working part time for partner companies in New Jersey and New York.
The program is now a key component of our IT recruitment strategy, helping build our pipeline across the company. The interns are good at coming up with ideas for how to solve business problems with technology, but the best part is the opportunity we give young people to have a future career in IT.
The sweet spot for CIOs to hit is the middle-school level. Get involved with your local schools’ curriculum boards and help develop classes that will grab the attention and imagination of kids. By the time they’re in eighth grade, they need to know that the technical field is interesting; otherwise, many of them will fall behind and won’t have the skills or knowledge to decide later that they want to be in IT. I’m working with several schools now that are developing programs that will prepare students for pursing technical degrees.