All Hands On Tech

Yes, a quasi double entendre, since I can never resist a good pun, especially one that conveys some core ideas.  We DO need all hands-on tech, and all hands on deck to do so. This musing was inspired by a mid-March EdWeek blog on minority students' interest in tech careers and in the importance of hands-on experiences that lead towards them.

Information technology is a top potential career choice for minority teens, according to a new survey from Creating IT Futures. The survey also presents some options for schools looking to provide students with career-related information and encouragement.  The survey involved 336 black and Hispanic high school students from across the country, all of whom were from low- or middle-income families in urban areas. Most (92%) attended public schools, and all identified as B or C students in their last two years of high school.The study's authors noted that these types of students are generally overlooked in studies about STEM careers: "Often left out of the equation are the students ... whose grades may not identify them as standouts for high-profile STEM tracks (e.g., engineer, physician, mathematician) but who can still achieve success in the practical, hands-on world of information technology.” 

Overall, a combined total of 42% of the students surveyed said that a job working with computers or technology was one of the three fields they were most seriously considering, more than any other field as an aggregate (the discrete fields that engendered the greatest interest were business owner with 18% and doctor or nurse with 16%).

Of course reading stuff like this further galvanizes my obsession about what we're aiming for in CityPathways.  The survey looked at where students get career advice. Parents came in first by a long shot—68% of teens said they talk to their parents about career options, whereas just 29% talk to their teachers (the next most popular response).  If that's not likely to perpetuate the opportunity gap, what is? When asked about the best ways to learn about potential jobs, students expressed interest in direct experience, with job-shadowing, site visits, and after-school and summer internships making up four of the five most popular options, along with "online career exploration tools and apps."  Certainly adds to the importance and urgency of providing such opportunities for youth in under resourced areas...

The survey provided some information about the best ways to get students involved. For example, large numbers of students said they would be interested in working on their IT skills or learning more about the field if it involved a paid job while in high school (94%), if doing so could help them get into college (90%), and if they received high school credit for their work (88%).  It’s not particularly surprising that teens are more likely to do something if they get paid for it, and the responses to that question in particular suggest that teachers and schools could be able to get students interested in any number of subjects—whether IT, STEM, or something else entirely—by connecting academic programs to students' existing career or life plans.

This of course accords with cPaths commitment to helping youth "see paths” and underscores the value of doing so within the burgeoning IT sector.  So here’s to all hands on deck for tech.

(note: given that this survey was commissioned by the philanthropic arm of an IT trade association, findings should be taken with a grain of salt, but they do resonate with my experience.)