Low enrollments in computer science and engineering programs mean few students are choosing technology careers. Five experts in IT education and training suggest ways to reverse the trend.
Associate Professor of Management, Marquette University
College of Business Administration
When job openings were few between 2001 and 2004, students
and their parents dismissed IT as a viable career. This low
followed an inflated high when IT was tackling Y2K compliance,
Web development and ERP projects. Both the high and low times
were aberrations and unfortunately were back-to-back,
exaggerating the misperceptions about IT careers.
Meanwhile, the media magnified the impact of offshore
outsourcing, contributing to fears that the difficult IT
employment situation would continue. There is growth for IT
careers domestically and globally with end user companies and
IT vendors. Research that I conducted with a team sponsored by
the Society for Information Management (SIM) shows that
nontechnology companies plan to increase their internal IT
staff and supplement that staff with vendors. Companies using
offshore sourcing are more likely do so by engaging a domestic
sourcer with an offshore staff. And two new sources of jobs
have emerged: Some global IT providers like Infosys
Technologies and the Tata Group are hiring U.S. citizens.
Meanwhile, there are new jobs within IT organizations due to
the need to manage global teams—positions such as
Although the number of graduates in IT-related majors is
increasing, the enrollment trend is not reversing quickly
enough to meet the demand. We need to get the message to middle
and high school students, parents and guidance
counselors—in addition to college freshmen and
sophomores—that if they want to enter these fields, they
need basic analytical skills and an interest in science,
technology, engineering and math. By middle school, students
are often turned off from technical subjects and don’t
have the basic skills they need to enter these fields.
CIOs can get involved with their school districts and spread
the word that the market is excellent for technology graduates.
Ask your staff to volunteer for career days at area schools,
have them bring students in to shadow them or mirror the Future
Potential in IT program (a program sponsored by SIM and
Microsoft through which college freshman and sophomores learn
from practitioners about real IT jobs) on a smaller scale.
President, LP Enterprises, and former Deputy CIO,
Procter & Gamble
The first step to solving this problem is to acknowledge
that it exists. Over the past few years, I have been asked to
speak to hundreds of CIOs on developing the pipeline of future
IT talent. I have been shocked and disappointed by the level of
complacency of many of the very people who will bear the full
brunt of this issue in the coming years.
They see the numbers, but they don’t pay attention
because they’ve been able to hire people to meet their
short-term needs. Those CIOs who do recognize the problem are
either too busy (which is understandable) or don’t know
how they can make a difference.
There are plenty of ways that IT organizations can have a
positive impact. First, universities are hungry for insight and
guidance about how their curricula should evolve and how to get
graduates into the best possible jobs. CIOs can also help
universities dispel the notion (that they get from the media)
that all IT jobs are moving to India, by working with them to
develop CRM and marketing programs for high school students,
parents and guidance counselors.
For students already in college, providing summer
internships or co-op positions is a low-cost way to support
university programs and ensure a flow of high-quality,
full-time hires into your organization. Having recent graduates
who are excited about their new careers come back to speak to
freshmen is one of the most valuable recruiting tools available
to a university IS program.
But the best place to shape the long-term direction of the
IT talent pool may be at the K-12 level. I have been involved
with The InterAlliance, a collaborative effort of IT leaders,
academia and high schools to encourage students to pursue
IT-related careers. The initial pilot program put 40
10th-graders through two weeks of IT-career camps, where they
heard from top IT and business leaders from major companies,
took field trips to see exciting technology applications (such
as robotic surgery), and got to bid on and deliver a website
project for a real client.
Analyst, Forrester Research
One factor in lower IT career interest is the unfair
perception of the IT career as confined to back-office
programming and populated by geeks. Some students do not
perceive IT as a socially conscious career choice that will
enable them to contribute to the greater societal good.
So what can we do about it? Well, it’s not just up to
Bill Gates to market the IT career. All players in the IT
ecosystem (enterprise IT, service providers, academia and so
on) are dependent on the continuing viability of the IT career
and must therefore play a role. CIOs should take the lead by
utilizing career fairs, college lectures, press interviews and
community outreach to inform students about the benefits of
working in IT and—for those hiring at the entry
level—the benefits of working in their IT
Industry groups should launch a motivational speakers’
bureau for IT to drum up interest in the field. Speakers could
go into high schools and provide guidance on the IT career and
why it’s a worthwhile major, into corporations to explain
the value of the career to people in non-IT business areas, and
to conferences to generate publicity as spokespeople for
Current students and young workers in IT should be
encouraged to act as ambassadors by going into high school and
middle school classrooms to dispel IT career myths by sharing
their own experiences. Students need to hear firsthand
testimonials of what the IT career is really like from young
people who are happy with that choice. They need to know that
they will not be hunched over a computer all day staring at
lines of code.
Network Administrator, Lakeland Bank, 2004 graduate of
Seton Hall University
Computer technology has been an everyday part of life for
young people. They may not find it to be an interesting career
since they’ve been exposed to it for most of their lives.
Students today are looking for careers that pay well and are
The recently fierce competition for jobs might also be
responsible for the lack of interest. Students would rather go
into a field where they will have a much easier time finding a
I never got the impression that people thought computer
science majors were nerdy or uncool. If anything, we attained a
little bit of respect because the curriculum was so difficult.
If people shy away from the major, I would say it’s
because they are unwilling to put in the time that goes with
it. It is an immense amount of work not nly to finish the major
but also to stay in touch with an ever-changing field.
It boils down to how much work you really want to do in
college to turn IT into a career. I saw a lot of people start
out doing computer science because they wanted to make money
when they got out, but when it came time to pull all-nighters
and actually learn how to do everything that was expected of
us, many of them didn’t want to do the work.
Chris Stephenson, Executive Director, Computer Science
Student interest in technology careers is lagging in part
because of the lack of time within the high school schedule for
them to study computer science.
The problem with the K-12 curriculum is that there is no
consistency in how technology and computer science subjects are
taught. One thing our research shows is that having a national
curriculum for computer science in place not only improves
consistency but goes a long way toward ensuring that courses
are rigorous and teachers are properly prepared to teach the
The Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) is working
on solutions to these problems. First, states could be
encouraged to adopt curriculum standards or guidelines such as
the Association for Computing Machinery’s Model
Curriculum for K-12 Computer Science. It sets out rigorous
learning outcomes for a comprehensive set of courses. CSTA is
working on providing additional implementation documents for
each of the courses in the curriculum to help teachers
implement it successfully.
In addition, state departments of education and institutions
that train teachers need to make sure that teaching programs
adequately prepare teachers. For example, the Georgia Institute
of Technology just redid its computer science curriculum and is
now trying to work out a model for teacher certification in the
subject. CSTA has just finished a survey to determine the
current computer science teaching certification requirements
for each state, and we are looking into a project that examines
all of the issues relating to teacher certification so we can
provide a model that all states can adopt.
Margaret Locher is a freelance writer based in the