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October 21, 2019

6 signs your school has a quality tech program (part 2)

If today's teens want to lay the best foundation for a career working with technology, should they enter a technical training program after high school or go straight to four years of college?


But maybe a better question is: Why must they choose between just two options?


Eric Larson, senior director at Creating IT Futures, who studies career and technical education and training programs, believes college versus technical training shouldn't be an either-or proposition. It should be a both-and option for aspiring teen technologists.


In this excerpted conversation from our Technologist Talk Radio podcast, Eric pulls a page from Charles Eaton's award-winning book, "How to Launch Your Teen's Career in Technology: A Parent's Guide to the T in STEM Education," sharing the second three of six signs of a quality school tech program.


During a discussion at CompTIA’s ChannelCon, Eric told podcast host R.C. “Bob” Dirkes the best school programs communicate the breadth and depth of opportunity in technology careers.


Eric: Tech is something that’s not wasted knowledge no matter what you plan to go into. So [the mission is] getting that message out of what it means to be a technologist, regardless of what field you go into, or what sector you work in. Also, it's getting news out there with parents – and even in some cases teachers – and, definitely, the students that there are careers in tech that are kind of behind the scenes but are just as fun and rewarding and lucrative as being a coder, which is a lot more visible. We're [working at] educating teachers and parents about the opportunities in tech so they can pass those on to the students, establishing expectations, and high expectations at that. …We don't say, “either or;” we say, “both and.” Learn tech skills, time your approach to college when it makes sense for you, whether it's sooner or later.


Bob: That's a great segue into the fifth bullet: “A holistic culture of computer learning through extracurricular clubs and technology competitions.” This makes me think immediately of the Technology Student Association.


Eric: We've been working with TSA – not the ones who pat you down at the airport – but the students who are 250,000 strong nationally. They're headquartered in Reston, Virginia. And they have been around for over 40 years now. They're one of just a handful of career and technical student organizations which are funded nationally by the federal government… [TSA] programs at schools around the country are absolutely taking a holistic approach… They've designed competitions that are geared toward classroom standards and curriculum. So, it ties in the competitions to what the students are learning in the classroom. And what's great about it is students really, really get into a social club… and also competition with other schools, other districts, other states. …They're learning the material in the classroom but they're applying it in the competitions in a social atmosphere where they're working… typically within a team. …TSA is just one organization; we happen to be pretty fond of them…. But there's Science Olympiad. There's FIRST Robotics, and other robotics competitions, where a school can give students these opportunities.


Bob: The final bullet is: “Formal ways to connect students to workplace learning and earning opportunities including internships and job shadow days.” …When I read that bullet, I thought about TechGirlz.


Eric: TechGirlz is an after-school or weekend approach to teaching tech to youngTechshopz in a box pic350w women. [The program] really allows the young women to bond together, get to know each other, as well as the person facilitating the workshop. Typically, it'll take place actually at a place of business. So, that gets a participant to actually step into the doors of a place where tech is done every day, or at least five days a week, right? And often what we'll do is source volunteers to help teach the TechShopz from that company. So, they’re able to share as mentors... hey, I work with this tool every day… and share about their jobs and sort of acclimatize young women to the work of tech… This is a wide-open opportunity to really groom the next generation of technologists and maybe even your own employees. What better way to gain trust and really help to acclimatize a student to your company's culture then to bring them in when they're young?


To read Part 1 of this interview and learn about Larson’s first three signs of a quality school tech program, click here.


Technologist Talk Radio is a podcast from CompTIA’s tech workforce charity, Creating IT Futures, where we share stories about nurturing the next generation of technology talent – aspiring technologists from teens in middle and high school to adults in career transition.


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