by Maryfran Johnson

IT Matchmakers

Feb 24, 2010

Nonprofits train youth in tough neighborhoods for IT jobs.

Whenever CIOs start talking about how to attract a new generation of young people to IT, the conversation tends to run in predictable circles.

Somebody mentions the sputtering talent pipeline and appallingly low numbers of computer science college students (only 1.5 percent of entering freshmen). Somebody else brings up one in four jobs going offshore to low-cost labor centers like India or Russia and the lamentable lack of glamour in entry-level IT jobs. (Alas, no reality TV shows about the help desk.)

Then the whole generational workplace communication thing comes out (“They’re texting all the time!”) and away we go. Next stop? Anecdotes about youthful attitudes of entitlement, followed by righteous indignation.

Now imagine a different conversation, one where you hear an influential Wall Street executive saying this about young IT interns: “They show up. They’re on time. They want to do more. They’re begging for another assignment.”

That’s Diane Schueneman, former vice president and head of global infrastructure for Merrill Lynch, talking about the young people she’s encountered through the Year Up organization described in Kim S. Nash’s wonderful and inspiring cover story (“Taking IT to the Streets”). She highlights the work of two prominent nonprofits (Year Up and NPower) that train hundreds of 18-to-25-year-olds from some of the country’s poorest neighborhoods, filling the IT pipeline with eager, hardworking talent.

While college interns still provide a useful source of entry-level corporate staffers, executives like Schueneman have noticed a striking difference in these young inner-city workers: a genuine attitude of gratitude. “There was a me, me, me’ attitude out of the better colleges, an entitlement attitude,” she says. “None of that is in these [Year Up] adults.”

“This exposure has changed my life,” says 24-year-old Solenny Herrera, a former NPower intern at Philadelphia’s Reed Technology and Information Services, where she’s now fully employed in data production operations.

Matching up young people with IT opportunities solves two problems for CIOs who get involved in these programs. “It meets the urgent need for new technology workers and the crying need for pathways out of poverty,” as Nash writes. “It’s not just a feel-good way to give back. They’re tapping what had been an invisible talent pool and diversifying their staffs.”

So the next time the topic of the IT talent pipeline turns up, I hope you’ll remember this story and take a closer look at nonprofit training programs in your own community. Be the one who starts a new conversation.