Paul Matthews, chief executive of the Institute of IT professionals (IITP), says CIOs and the “broader” IT community have to take ownership of one of the big issues facing the sector – increasing the number of skilled people choosing a career in information technology. “We still have got a skills shortage, we still have got problems convincing people it is a good career to get into,” says Matthews.
He calls on CIOs to be involved in the IITP’s programme which is taking IT professionals to talk to students in schools across the country about ICT as a career.
“CIOs can get involved in this without too much time investment, without too much effort,” he says. “We do all the organising. What they have to do is turn up, talk about what inspires them about IT, start getting the message IT is well paid, and [that] there are lots of jobs.
“We have got to get the message to the next generation,” says Matthews. “It is not something we can sit back and say, ‘we have trouble getting staff’ without taking practical steps to deal with it.”
The presentations are “not scripted”, says Matthews. “They can talk about half an hour about their personal experiences, where IT has taken them and the opportunity it has given them.”
He says the “default programme” is to organise four presentations in schools over four weeks. The first presentation is a discussion about the IT industry, the next two will be presentations from practitioners, and the last will be about pathways of getting into the sector, like taking courses in the university, polytechnics and private institutions.
Matthews says the CIOs can get involved in the second and third presentations.
Matthews says the students they talk to think IT “is a very narrow field, sitting in a dark room somewhere. They don’t understand the diversity of it.”
He says the presentations explain that people who are not technically minded can still get involved in the sector.
The school programme is funded by around 40 companies. “It is a sustainable programme," he says. "We need the CIO community to get involved.”
Into the red zone
Orion Health CEO Ian McCrae, a supporter of the IITP project, says staff in his software company are encouraged to present to schools encouraging students to consider going into information technology.
An Orion Health employee in Christchurch went one step further. Michael Trengrove, test team leader, says the development team members have three weeks a year to work on any project they want.
He looked at “practical things” the team can do in the Eastern suburbs of Christchurch, which was among the heavily damaged areas during the earthquake.
Orion donated time and money to set up a facility and “kitted it out with computers and technology”.
He says the team then created a curriculum that takes students through different steps of learning to programme software.
The first time they went to Aranui High School in the area to explain the project, he says, a staff member told them about the low interest of students by other people who have presented ideas.
“I gave a 10-minute talk that IT is not a thing for geeks and nerds, being in dark rooms and dungeons working away,” says Trengrove, who is from Christchurch and joined Orion Health nine months ago.
“It is working with teams taking ideas and using that to create innovative solutions. We want to help you create your own phone apps, web apps and take these ideas and build something. That is what software is about.”
He says around 65 people, both teachers and students signed up on the first day. “We were completely blown away.”
Trengrove says the company wants to roll out the project nationally but has to make it scalable. The team is in the process of creating a web portal where every student in the country can create an account. The goal is for students to receive NCEA credits for learning to code. “We will have people marking and assessing the work,” he says.
“Teenagers are focused on a couple of things: girls, boys, and NCEA credits. We think this will draw the kids [to the programme], and is a great resource for teachers in the country.”
“We could do it 100 percent ourselves,” he says. “But we want to do it the smart way, to engage with other companies to work together to create a social network between students, teachers and IT professionals.”
Divina Paredes (@divinap) is editor of CIO New Zealand.
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