Growing Need for More Trained IT Workers

 
 
By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2012-01-30
 
 
 

Lenovo, IBM Look to High Schools for Future IT Workers


As the need for more IT workers becomes more and more dire, major vendors are making efforts to seed the industry with trained technology staff by reaching out to potential candidates in high school.

Lenovo recently announced an effort with the National Academy Foundation to launch a program to help high school students learn mobile app development in the United States. Last year, IBM, in partnership with the City of New York, kicked off a new school to teach kids IT skills and graduate them with a free associate's degree. And a New York-based venture capitalist along with a group of industry supporters has contributed to the creation of a new high school to teach software engineering in the city.

On Jan. 24, Lenovo and the National Academy Foundation (NAF) launched an innovative program to teach mobile app development to high school students across the United States. Five schools from NAF's network of career academies are piloting the program as part of Lenovo's initiative to encourage greater student interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects.

North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue and members of Lenovo and NAF's executive leadership team announced the joint effort at Apex High School's Academy of Information Technology in Apex, N.C., one of the participating schools.

"High-tech skills are critical for North Carolina's pipeline of future workers," Perdue said in her remarks. "Unique partnerships like this one not only give high school students real-world, real-time learning opportunities, but they align with the broader goals of business, education and government to create North Carolina's next generation of professional leaders."

To aid the students and teachers implement the curriculum, Lenovo provided a package of technology products to each school, including Android-based ThinkPad Tablets and large format ThinkCentre HD All-in-One desktops, among other items.

"To succeed in tomorrow's workforce, students need a solid foundation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics with fluency in the technologies that will power the global economy," said Michael Schmedlen, worldwide director of education at Lenovo, in a statement. "This exciting program engages students via the technology and apps they use every day. By partnering with the National Academy Foundation, we're delivering a rigorous and relevant curriculum that will help create our next generation of developers and entrepreneurs."

The other schools that will offer the app development course are part of the National Academy Foundation's Academies of Information Technology: Grover Cleveland High School in New York City, Downtown Magnets High School in Los Angeles, Pathways to Technology Magnet School in Hartford, Conn., and A.J. Moore Academy of Information and Technology in Waco, Texas. The program aims to ultimately make the curriculum available to NAF's 100 Academies of Information Technology. 

"Our schools are strong because we have great partnerships with business and industry," said Anthony J. Tata, superintendent of North Carolina's Wake County Public School System, in a statement. "This unique program gives our students practical experience with innovative technology at a time when they're making decisions about their future careers. We're creating the next generation of entrepreneurs."

The course is designed to be implemented as either a 12-week after-school or "out-of-school time" activity to supplement the NAF-developed IT courses students take during the school day or as part of the existing NAF daytime curriculum. Student teams will develop a working wireframe, business plan and implementation schedule for an Android-based mobile application.

"The partnership between NAF and Lenovo is a real example of how business and education can play a pivotal role in changing high school education to ensure college and career success," said JD Hoye, president of the NAF, in a statement. "We are pleased to be working with such innovative thinkers to inspire and equip tomorrow's leaders."

New research from Lenovo also supports creation of the mobile app development curriculum. The research shows that while students have a strong interest in mobile apps - which many of them use on a daily basis - and see app development as a valuable skill, they don't have confidence that they will have the technology background needed for tomorrow's workforce.

Moreover, the Lenovo research, based on a survey of American teenagers conducted in December of 2011, showed that:

  • 80 percent of American teens would be interested in learning how to create their own mobile app.
  • Almost one-quarter (22 percent) think that mobile app development will be the most important technology skill to have when entering the workforce in a few years.
  • 63 percent are only somewhat confident, at best, that the technology know-how they have now is enough to secure a good job upon entering the workforce.

Providing Students With the Skills Needed for Today


On Sept. 8, 2011, IBM in collaboration with the New York City Department of Education and CUNY launched Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH), a new grades 9-14 school where students can obtain an associate degree for free and get first crack at a job at IBM upon graduation.

With this Brooklyn-based school, for the first time in conjunction with the New York City Department of Education, a company--IBM-has helped develop the teaching curriculum and is providing 130 IBM mentors for every student and the principal. Overall, P-TECH is the result of a collaborative effort among the New York City Department of Education, The City University of New York (CUNY), the New York City College of Technology and IBM.

P-TECH is the answer to help students enter the workforce with the skills that are required by businesses today. A recent report from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economics and Statistics Administration showed that careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) pay better and offer more job security because of the demand for professionals in those fields.

The new school is designed to prepare students to fill entry-level jobs in technology fields or provide them with the foundation for ongoing learning in a four-year college. While providing its students with a solid foundation across the core academic curriculum linked directly to common core standards, the schools will focus on STEM subjects. IBM is committed to helping create a smarter education system as part of its efforts to build a smarter planet. By assisting to design this innovative grade 9-14 program, IBM is helping create a new model for STEM education and beyond.  This model will serve as the basis for additional schools throughout the city, state and nation.

IBM has invested at least $500,000 in making the P-TECH school work, including software and equipment.

In his 2012 State of the City address, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said:

"For instance, last September, we opened an innovative new school in partnership with IBM that focuses on computer science. It's a six-year high school - grades 9 through 14, that's right: 14 - so students graduate with a Regents degree and an associate's degree and they also get a place in line for a job at IBM.

"It's a new way of thinking about secondary school based on today's economic realities."

Stan Litow, IBM's vice president of Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs and president of the IBM Foundation, told eWEEK a broad majority of the students at P-TECH come from low-income families. Litow said a parent-teacher meeting last year at the Paul Robeson High School (which the school housing P-TECH was formerly known as) was lucky to draw more than a dozen interested parents. Yet, a meeting to discuss the prospect of getting kids into the new P-TECH facility drew a standing-room-only crowd, Litow said.

"The community sees this as an opportunity," Litow said. "Parents see the school as a way for their children to get ahead. And the students are aware that technology skills are in high demand."

Moving From Poverty to Meaningful Employment


In a blog post about P-TECH, Rashid Davis, the school's principal, said:

"Unemployment among the poor and undereducated is far higher than the national average, and persists even during 'good times.' There are at least two reasons for this:

  • The majority of good American jobs require some form of post-secondary education or training, and
  • As a cultural institution, the corporate workplace - where most of the good jobs are - operates on middle-class values and behaviors.

As a result, young people from difficult circumstances must overcome the dual challenges of getting an education and navigating unfamiliar waters to move from poverty to meaningful, long-term employment. My job is to make that happen."

Rodney Adkins, senior vice president of IBM Systems and Technology Group, is Davis' mentor.

"One of the challenges to our economic recovery is a mismatch between job openings and employees' skills," Adkins told eWEEK. "A new model for public education like P-TECH, which includes partnerships with the private sector, can ensure that students graduate with the skills that potential employers need. Companies like IBM can help students connect what they are learning in school with paths to successful careers."

Adkins added that Davis is uniquely cut out for the task of running the school. "P-TECH's principal, Rashid Davis, is on the cutting edge of this trend, helping to build a new education model in Brooklyn, N.Y. Rashid understands the importance of putting principles into practice and how collaboration among educators, students and potential employers can deliver a new focus on relevant job skills. Training more students for careers in technology will also benefit our overall economy. Because while only 5 percent of U.S. workers are employed in fields related to science and engineering, they're responsible for more than 50 percent of our sustained economic expansion."

IBM says the hallmark of P-TECH is public/private collaborations. IBM will work with government, nonprofit and business partners on various aspects of the school development and programming. As one example, IBM is pulling together an industry coalition, which will serve a pivotal role in ensuring the expansion of this project beyond a single grades 9-14 school. This coalition will be responsible for providing mentors and internship programs; developing the core set of minimum requirements for entry-level IT jobs that will serve as benchmarks and targets; identifying best practices from successful public/private partnership schools; and devising a plan for scaling up the project to other schools in New York City and across the nation.

On Oct. 4, 2011, IBM announced that starting Oct. 15, the company would dispatch a team of technology consultants to Chicago for a three-month period funded by an IBM Smarter Cities Challenge grant. The team will work with educators and city leaders to evaluate ways Chicago can better align its educational system with the needs of knowledge workers in the private sector, as well as enhance and integrate the high school and community college experiences. The program would be designed for implementation in five Chicago high schools by 2012.  

"Mayor Emanuel is demonstrating real innovative leadership here, by working closely with business and education leaders to catapult Chicago's educational system to the forefront, along with some of the world's most progressive cities," IBM's Litow said in a statement. "IBM is proud to bring the most forward thinking educational and business models to Chicago and expand career opportunities for the city's young adults."

The Smarter Cities Challenge grant will enable IBM to collaborate closely with the Chicago Mayor's office, Chicago Public School leaders, Chicago City Colleges, city departments, civic groups and the private sector. Through these consultations and analysis, the team will work with Chicago educators and city leaders to create a strategic, step-by-step operational plan to create an educational system that more effectively ties to Chicago's economic future. Among those plans will be the incorporation of the concept of the grade 9 through 14 school. IBM's work in Chicago will be informed by the company's experience with P-TECH.

As a guest columnist in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in December, Litow pushed the P-TECH model as a potential example for that city to follow. Litow said:

"We must increase community college completion rates by improving the preparation for college-level work. One way to do that is through adoption of a new grades 9 through 14 model school pioneered by IBM. The first of these schools, the Pathways in Technology Early College High School, opened in New York City this fall. P-TECH will award both a high school diploma and an associate's degree in technology to graduates who will then be first in line for jobs at IBM. Chicago will open five similar schools next fall, each focused on specific growth industries. The P-TECH model can work in any city under current budgets."

Growing Need for More Trained IT Workers


And at IBM's THINK Forum in September 2011, former IBM CEO Samuel Palmisano said he planned to take the P-TECH model to Baltimore. "We're going to do one of these schools in Baltimore, because that's where I'm from," he said.

Meanwhile, in a Jan. 13 blog post, Joel Spolsky, co-founder and CEO of New York City-based Fog Creek Software, raised the issue of The Academy for Software Engineering. Spolsky said the academy, which will open in the fall of 2012, will be "the city's first public high school that will actually train kids to develop software."

Spolsky, who is on the board of advisers for the academy, added, "The project has been a long time dream of Mike Zamansky, the highly regarded CS teacher at New York's elite Stuyvesant public high school. It was jump started when Fred Wilson, a VC at Union Square Ventures, promised to get the tech community to help with knowledge, advice and money."

Mayor Bloomberg also mentioned the academy in his State of the City address:

"And now, thanks to support from CUNY, we plan to open three more schools using this same model including one right here in the Bronx. In addition, with support from venture capitalist Fred Wilson, this September we'll open a Software Engineering Academy, the brainchild of one of our own teachers - Mike Zamansky from Stuyvesant High School. We're honored to have both Fred and Mike with us today.

"The new school will be located in Union Square - home to a growing tech community that includes companies like Yelp and General Assembly. Those are the kinds of companies we want our students to work for, or to start."

In his post, Spolsky, who always seems to be looking for new talent for his organization, cited the need for more trained IT workers, saying:

"OMG do we ever need more software engineers. The US post-secondary education system is massively failing us: it's not producing even remotely enough programmers to meet the hiring needs of the technology industry. Not even remotely enough. Starting salaries for smart programmers from top schools are flirting with the $100,000 mark. Supply isn't even close to meeting demand. This school is going to be pretty small (in the 400-500 student range) but the Board of Ed has promised that if it's successful it'll be used as a template for more schools or for special programs inside larger schools. I predict that they will be overwhelmed with applicants and this will be the most popular new school in New York City in years."

"I want to personally thank the mayor, his education team led by Dennis Walcott, and his economic development team led by Robert Steel for adopting an integrated set of technology, economic development, and education policies and then aggressively rolling them out city wide," the aforementioned Fred Wilson said in his own Jan. 13 post on Business Insider. "The Academy for Software Engineering is just one part of a much bigger strategy of developing new industries and new jobs in New York City and making sure we have the education resources, both in K-12 and at the college/university level, to properly staff these new industries."

With the help of companies such as IBM and Lenovo, and venture capitalists and interested educators, more high school students will gain access to IT skills and training. And as the model for schools such as P-TECH begins to catch on and proliferate, perhaps the supply of trained youngsters prepared to enter the IT field will begin to meet the demand.

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