IT career

IT #1: STEM crisis quickly becoming an IT problem

Gen Z’s dependence on tech and tech support not mirrored in their career choices; IT career dearth a massive problem on the horizon.

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on February 22nd of this year, was our #1 most popular story of the year. For the #2 from last week, click here.]

According to recent data, Gen Z demands that devices and software—and the support required to use them—be woven into their daily lives; yet, most of this digital native generation has no interest in having an IT career. So who, exactly, will provide the technology and support needed to satisfy the future generation?

It’s yet another cold water splash on the STEM fields that have been in crisis in the U.S. for years. However, unlike the somewhat vague notion of there being less engineers and mathematicians to better the collective intelligence and innovation of a nation, the fact that almost none of the future generation have any interest in information technology (think: computers, the internet, software systems, telecommunications, data analysis, electronic engineering) will have a direct, negative impact on not only individual consumers, but on entire ecosystems (like higher education) that are becoming increasingly dependent on IT.

For example, outside of daily consumer needs (e.g. seeking support whenever a phone application stops working), entire markets are rapidly becoming more dependent on IT, with the example of higher education and its reliance on everything from providing campus help desks to migrating critical systems to the cloud.

The panic increases when one considers where higher education is moving in the future. Already, leading institutions like Stanford are making national pleas for experts to be created in the burgeoning field of  data science (combining skills in computing science and applications, modeling, statistics, analytics, and math to discover insights in data) as colleges and universities become increasingly reliant on harnessing data to increase performance in everything from enrollment to graduation rates. And innovators in the higher ed arena are starting to build whole new offices devoted specifically to data science and IT management.

According to EDUCAUSE, colleges and universities this year will put heavy focus on mobile devices for learning, SaaS, administrative performance analytics, hybrid and online learning, apps for enterprise applications, and service desk tools…all technology-based innovations supported by campus IT. In next few years, these and other technologies will only advance in capability and expertise needed to support these capabilities.

(Next page: The sobering statistics; what’s being done to promote IT?)

Sobering Statistics

Gen Z’s lack of interest in IT was revealed as part of CompTIA’s Managing the Multigenerational Workforce study, based on over 1,000 teens and young adults aged 13-24.

At first, notes the report, the statistics seem promising: a total of 70 percent of those surveyed said they “love technology,” with only 1 percent total saying they “dislike technology.”

However, this love for technology, and the realization by Gen Z that this technology allows them to be connected, productive and anytime learners, does not translate to career choice.

“On the surface, it seems like the affinity for technology is a great thing for the future workforce, since technology will be so intertwined with business,” states the report. “However, most students are not eyeing a career in IT as a result of their technology leanings.”

According to the Gen Z students surveyed, 21 percent of 13-17 year-olds say they are not interested in an IT career, a number that jumps to 26 percent at 18-24 years-old. And while 19 percent of 18-24 year-olds are interested in an IT career, the report stresses that this is not a high enough percentage.

“This is largely a result of the information students receive about their careers,” emphasizes the report. “Among 18-24 year-olds who said they were not interested in an IT career, the primary reason for the lack of interest was not having enough information about the field.”

The report notes that students in the same age bracket who said they were interested in an IT career cited technology classes in high school or junior high as top influences, but 38 percent of all younger-aged students said that their school does not provide IT-focused career information.

Potentially negative stereotypes about IT careers also dampened Gen Z interest, revealed the report. When asked to consider what a job in IT is like, most students responded that it would require good math and science skills, which the report says means most students consider all IT roles to be deeply technical. But, only a small number of students responded that such jobs were in high demand, with many citing a fear of off-shoring.

Yet, even though Gen Z interest in an IT career is iffy at best, the report also highlighted data showing that IT support remains a critical component of society, and “most workers expect the need for IT support to increase or remain at the same level…”

Moving Forward

Though most K-12 schools do not currently have an IT curriculum, some colleges and universities are trying to garner interest among their current students.

For example, Ohio State University (OSU) began an innovative internship arrangement with Hyland Software where students have a chance to intern at the company then apply the skills learned there in jobs within the university’s Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO), which utilizes the company’s OnBase enterprise content-management platform. “In our partnerships with companies like Hyland, we are interested in how we can add value for our students, whether it be internships or scholarships,” said Dave Kieffer, senior director of enterprise applications at OSU. “We are looking for opportunities for students to get involved in the work of the university as well as ways to engage them in the work of our partners.”

At Georgia Southern University, the campus bookstore partnered with a mobile repair company to not only provide tech repair services on-campus, but classes that teach students about the technology behind their devices, as well as how to perform simple repair services.

And on the more technical side, the University of Colorado Boulder’s Department of Applied Mathematics developed a new statistics minor that includes several new classes in the data science, plus several existing courses that were revamped to better serve those career fields looking for data scientists. Other examples of data science IT-based curricula in higher ed can be found here and here.

It’s important to provide information to students that show the “breadth and depth of technology careers,” explains the report, because “there are many career paths inside the IT industry that are not heavily technical, and there are many job choices outside of the IT industry where technology is becoming more critical…Whether students want to build the next great gadget or improve a social situation, technology will likely be the main ingredient. Improved information about how technology factors into career choices will be key as students with a changed set of priorities and interests make decisions about their future livelihood.”

For more detailed information on CompTIA’s report, click here.

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