Lenovo, IBM Look to High Schools for Future IT Workers

Big companies such as Lenovo and IBM are looking at high schools to tap into the next generation of IT workers to build the next killer apps and staff the jobs of the future.

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.