by Gary Beach

How CIOs Can Help Build IT Talent for the Future

Jun 08, 20122 mins

Many in the US are concerned about the talent gap between American students and similarly-aged students overseas when it comes to math and science skills. This is a real problem for our economy and security. But CIOs can help by reaching out to guidance councelors and educating them about jobs in IT.

The CIO Executive Council, a peer advisory group founded by CIO‘s publisher, runs an initiative called Youth in IT, which has done a lot of work with CIOs that focuses on encouraging kids from the elementary through grad school levels to consider technology careers. Perhaps you have attended one of the group’s sessions at events across the country.

The passage of a bill authorizing a natural gas pipeline gets lots of press in our country, but the building of a national pipeline of young Americans interested in technology goes largely unnoticed. McKinsey Quarterly recently reported that if American students continue performing poorly on international math and science assessment tests, our country risks sliding into a “permanent national recession.” And in March, the well-respected Council on Foreign Relations warned that this educational deficit even threatens America’s national security. Why? Because critical Washington agencies are frankly worried about the number and quality of young Americans coming through our educational pipeline.

And it is all so silly! Too many young Americans and their parents believe that developing a generation of kids with strong math and science skills is not important to the future. They often labor under the misapprehension that all tech jobs are going to Asia, even though the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the polar opposite is true: It forecasts strong, double-digit job growth in tech through the rest of this decade.

Possibly the most important initiative taken by the Youth in IT program is to try to change young Americans’ perception of what IT jobs look like. Why is this so critical? When the Stevens Institute of Technology surveyed middle- and high-school guidance counselors in 2008, it found that the overwhelming majority of those whose job it is to advise kids on careers have no clue what an IT worker is. If they don’t know, how can we expect their students to?

And that’s where you come in. I want to marshal a small army of CIO readers to call a guidance counselor in their community and ask for a meeting. At that meeting, offer to mentor the counselor on tech jobs. Then offer to come by after school to talk with students who might be considering jobs that require strong math and science skills.

All IT executives have a responsibility to build our next generation of leaders. Let’s get to work doing it together.