Marketing IT Careers to Youth
If the children are our future, as the great philosopher Whitney Houston once said, where does that leave information technology in the United States? The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook (which, everyone knows, is a hot read among the crucial youth demographic) shows that the majority of IT-related fields are expected to grow much faster than the overall job market through the end of the decade. And you don’t need to check out some industry report to know that IT underpins absolutely everything these days, and that both companies and individual consumers’ dependence on technology will only increase in the future.
Yet statistics show that the young people who are now entering the job market, or will be in a few years, just don’t seem to be all that interested in this field. Even though IT’s hooks are baited with nice, juicy worms (high incomes, plenty of chances for advancement, etc.), they’re just not biting. “I think a lot of the concerns that corporations and educators in the United States have is this whole issue of young people in our country not thinking about pursuing careers in information technology,” said Carroll McGillin, education specialist at Cisco’s Networking Academy, an Internet-based program that—among other things—promotes IT to young people. “The number of people going on to careers in engineering and computer science has continued to drop, particularly among females and underrepresented minorities.”
Part of the problem with IT’s image among youth today is their perception that once they go techie, they’ll be issued a thick-rimmed set of glasses with tape in the middle, a pocket protector, a Rubik’s cube and a Klingon-to-English translation dictionary. Needless to say, this impression isn’t very helpful when dealing with the MTV set. “For a lot of students, they think of IT (professionals) as geeks sitting in front of computer terminals, and all they’re doing is programming,” McGillin said.
Another obstacle is the view that the IT employment market is unstable, which was brought on by the breakdown of the tech sector at the beginning of this decade and continues to linger even today due to concerns like offshore outsourcing. BLS projections notwithstanding, IT is sometimes considered to be a risky career move for young people. “There’s that perception,” McGillin said. “When the dot-com bust happened, a lot of parents, who may actually be technically savvy, said, ‘Don’t go into this area.’”
Winning Their Hearts and Minds
I’m not saying that everyone needs to go out and start a youth outreach and education initiative around IT, but we definitely need to spruce up the industry’s image a little. Here are just a few messages we can send to win the hearts and minds of tomorrow’s IT vanguard today:
- IT is a meritocracy: Women are especially reluctant to pursue careers in IT. Presumably, more of them might be persuaded to do so if they knew that IT is not as likely to have a “glass ceiling” keeping them from advancement and pay raises. Few industries are as focused on actual work performance as IT, because the tasks are fairly clear-cut and easily measured. If you do a job well, your superiors will probably notice and reward you for it.
- IT is lucrative: Respondents to Certification Magazine’s 2004 Salary Survey reported average annual earnings of $67,000, which isn’t exactly chump change when one considers that per capita income in the United States was $40,100 last year. Charges that the IT job market can be unpredictable aren’t entirely unfounded, but in a free-for-all capitalist economy, what isn’t unstable? And although tech had become a bubble by the end of the ’90s, the recession that followed in the next decade couldn’t be pinned entirely on it’s bursting. (Enron, anyone?)
- IT is (or can be) cool: For many young people, being branded as “uncool” is a fate worse than death—hence, their resistance to the idea of going into a geeky profession. Movies like “Revenge of the Nerds” and “Weird Science” enforce the stereotype that computer enthusiasts are just a bunch of introverted, super-cerebral Poindexters. But who made the rule that someone who can build a LAN or write code is by definition dorky? It certainly doesn’t prevent anyone from being who they want to be or having a social life. Additionally, the geek protagonists of the aforementioned movies triumphed over their more popular counterparts. (And really, who’s cooler than Dudley “Booger” Dawson?)
Brian Summerfield is Web editor for Certification Magazine. Send him your favorite study tips and tech tricks at firstname.lastname@example.org.