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Channel Professionals: Help Us Help You Address the IT Skills Gap

Cathy AlperBy Cathy Alper

Demand for skilled professionals continues to exceed the supply of qualified applicants in many geographic areas, particularly in a number of specialized fields, and that tension shows no signs of lessening. The reality is that there simply aren’t enough people signing up for careers in IT. The CompTIA Advancing Women in IT Community has been talking about that issue for several years, developing programs and industry-supported initiatives to address that shortfall.

Why the mismatch? Perhaps those outside the IT community don’t understand all the opportunities that are available, and how fulfilling a career in our field can be? Some aren’t aware that companies continue to struggle finding good candidates to fill open positions, particularly those in states with that rely heavily on tech workers, such as California and Texas. In fact, the December 2015 national unemployment rate for computer and mathematical occupations (the category that fits most IT workers) was just 2.6% — the same as it was at the end of 2014. That’s approximately half of the general unemployment rate. For a field where wages are typically quite high and demand not expected to lessen in the foreseeable future, it’s hard to understand why more people aren’t pursuing education and training in the computer sciences. More people need to know the need, the options and the benefits. 

We need to spread the word to the young, to returning veterans and to those displaced from other jobs. As industry professionals, we are uniquely positioned to “evangelize” the opportunities to friends, family, community members and, perhaps most importantly, to the kids.

That’s a main objective for members of the AWIT Community. Not only do these volunteers help us create programs to pique interest in IT careers, but they carry that message to their own schools and community groups. Many give time each year to deliver presentations and have heart-to-heart conversations with youth of all ages, as well as those looking for new opportunities.     

IT and Education: A Great Starting Point

If you’re looking for a great example of how you can help, talk with Fran Mauney.

By day an education practice leader representing Intel Education at SYNNEX Corporation, in her off hours Fran volunteers her time to inspire and connect kids with technology. She began her career teaching first- and second-grade classes in the Greenville County, South Carolina, school district before her passion for educational technology put her on a slightly different career path. Fran saw IT as an education-enabler that could bring new opportunities to students and teachers, allowing them to develop new ideas and connect better in their classrooms. Her forward-thinking approach was instrumental in helping her school adopt a number of technology solutions over the years, winning them several innovation awards from the South Carolina department of education.

After later serving as an instructional technology facilitator for Title 1 schools (a program designed to close the achievement gap between low-income and other students), she took a much different career leap. Almost two years ago, Fran took her technology background and love for classroom innovation and joined SYNNEX’s educational program. The distributor was hiring educators and technology liaisons to bolster its vertical expertise, and she realized her passion and IT ingenuity could be useful to teachers and students across a much wider geography.

Fran currently helps SYNNEX’s partners better understand the needs of schools and how to design solutions that address specific educational requirements. This allows her to teach on a much different, though potentially more crucial, level today, spreading her insight in classrooms, speaking at industry conferences and consulting one-on-one with solution providers.

Of course, Fran still loves to inspire students and is thankful her company is supportive of her passion and her efforts. She recently hosted a technology showcase at SYNNEX for local college education majors, setting up 10 learning stations (hands-on demos) so students could experience the latest educational technologies firsthand.

“When those future educators do get out into the schools, they’ll be more aware of what’s available, including everything from virtual and augmented reality solutions to 3-D printers,” she says.

Back to School

Outside her workday, Fran is involved in similar academic activities. She volunteers for Mentor Upstate, working with some of the Title 1 schools she used to teach at, coordinating with guidance counselors to focus time on underprivileged children and those who need a little extra care. That experience lead Fran to CompTIA.

“One counselor asked if I would speak to the fourth- and fifth-grade students about my career,” she says. “I had done some collaboration with CompTIA earlier related to a message to educators and had a chance to see some of the association’s tech curriculum. I loved what I saw.”

The school approved Fran’s request to use the Dream IT presentation created by the AWIT Community. She also shared a video about girls and science and information about SYNNEX so she could explain what she and her employer do.

“From that point, all I had to do was talk,” she says. “I went through the CompTIA presentation. It starts by asking them to picture a technology worker, and they close their eyes and imagine. Then I shared the different images on the CompTIA slides. We talked about their ideas and brainstormed all the different jobs they could have in the IT industry.”

The presentation is applicable to all, but it especially emphasizes that technology (and a STEM career) is not just for boys. It encourages the sharing of ideas, and Fran was excited by what she heard.

“The girls started telling me about how they enjoy coding, gaming and creating websites and other designs,” she says. “I asked them to write down all their ideas to share with administrators and my teammates.”

Everyone in the IT industry has an opportunity to do what Fran does (to some effect). With the CompTIA Dream IT presentation in hand and a little preparation, you too can inspire kids to pursue a tech (or STEM) career. Contact your local guidance counselors and offer up your time. Share the slide deck and presentation materials with them, as well as your reason for wanting to help.

All it takes is a little time and passion. You can help your community, our industry and in some cases, your own company. The future IT talent is waiting. Can you help them understand the options and how they can pursue careers in IT?  

Cathy Alper is the Director of Member Communities at CompTIA.


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