Recently, a Texas state representative told a disturbing story about one school administration in his district. With business grants given to the school, the district had compiled enough funds for a computer lab. However, someone in the school’s senior leadership felt the district needed a new high school football scoreboard, and the money in the budget for the computer lab was reassigned to pay for that, instead.
While high school football is a big draw in Texas, uniting the community and bringing in revenue, the reality is our schools desperately need funding in areas outside of athletics.
Across the United States, 69 percent of high school students go on to college directly after graduation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Within the poorer areas of each state, however, that number is significantly lower. In addition, high school dropouts have an unemployment rate of 27 percent, while those with a college bachelor’s degree have an unemployment rate of just 5 percent.
Funding a new computer lab could have been a valuable way to keep students engaged and nurture their technical career aspirations. With the ability to teach coding, information security and other IT skills, that school district could have shown its students myriad career options for computer-savvy young people. But redirecting that money to a scoreboard hindered that progress.
The repercussions of this administrative decision stretch far beyond these individual students or school, limiting the community’s ability to support the growing economy with local talent. The jobs these students could have filled — which would have earned them between $60,000 and $120,000 per year in IT development, quality assurance and project management roles — will continue to be filled by immigrant resources with H1B Visas. A portion of their salaries will go to shore up our Social Security, unemployment and other social aid programs, many of which this particular school’s students will now need to take advantage of.
An Expansive Local Market
According to a 2016 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the professional business services market, which includes IT management and technical consulting services, outperformed the health care and financial service markets in job growth in 2015. With the exception of mining employment, which continued to decline, all other markets remained flat.
One advantage of programming and IT is that, to learn the skills, students don’t necessarily need advanced degrees. One or two years of programming education will suffice and, in many cases, resources such as CodeUp! or Udacity will prepare young people for these jobs. With the proper introduction to the field, high schools can launch students into a promising path — whether or not that path includes a four-year college.
With local corporations starving for IT talent — and with the relative ease of developing necessary skills — it stands to reason that our public high schools should be doing all they can to foster IT talent. Instead, local corporations are bringing their talent in from overseas or offshoring their IT development needs. If we continue ignoring that demand, the use of offshore resources will only increase, widening the chasm between economic classes in the United States.
No Sign of Slowing Down
The reality is, there will never cease to be a need for information technology workers, especially as manufacturing, construction, mining and other industries continue to evolve and automate. Technology, computers, machines and robots will continue to replace humans in the workforce, increasing the need for people to manage those machines. The only choice for our young workforce is to jump in front of technology or be crushed by it.
Information technology is a continuously growing and lucrative field, and an excellent opportunity to keep the U.S. workforce local. But our education system has consistently failed to prepare high school students to enter that market. Rather than tout IT as a viable career option, we teach students little more than the basics, and often with outdated computers and software.
Hopefully, someday soon, school administrators will realize the twinkling cursor on a computer screen promises more of a future to their students than the colorful lights of a football scoreboard.
Tony Streeter is Chief Marketing Officer, SVP at IT. in San Antonio. Tony has led new product development, e-commerce marketing and integrated platform marketing initiatives for major corporations such as Harland Clarke, Deluxe Corporation and RR Donnelley. Y&L Consulting is a comprehensive IT services and solutions company specializing in Application Development, Information Management/BI and IT Help Desk Services.