School's in for ICT professionals

New Zealand Computer Society has launched its ICT Connect progamme in secondary schools

Michael Peterson is filled with pride every time he receives a reference request from IT employers regarding his former students. In the past year he has taken three such calls, and the ICT educator says he hopes to receive many more in the future.

Peterson, who is the head of ICT at Hukarere Girls’ College in the Hawkes Bay, says the students at the low-decile school face significant challenges in finding employment after leaving secondary school. By encouraging his students towards careers in IT, he can help them gain stable employment in the future, he says.

“I’ve been talking to people in the industry, they want more women working in IT. There are some now, but not many because they get snapped up very quickly. There is a need for them and we as educators need to show them the opportunities available to them,” says Peterson.

Peterson is a strong advocate of ICT as a subject and of the industry as a career. He has criticised the lack of importance given to ICT by the Ministry of Education, which he says is discouraging students from considering ICT as a career.

“The IT industry is changing the world, and bringing so much to the New Zealand economy,” says Peterson.

“At the moment a lot of people who come into IT come into it through the side, from business or project management roles. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the students were coming into the industry deliberately?”

Three years ago Hukarere Girls’ College and 11 other New Zealand schools, were a part of the New Zealand Computer Society’s (NZCS) pilot programme to evangelise IT careers in secondary schools.

The pilot involved industry professionals visiting schools and talking to students about possible IT careers.

Peterson says programmes like this go a long way towards encouraging secondary students towards career paths in the ICT industry, by passing on the experiences of people they can relate to.

“One of the successes I’ve had was getting a young woman in the IT industry into a class of young girls to talk about her IT experiences. The girls thought it was cool and they could see themselves with a similar future,” says Peterson.

“We have had similar things before, but they usually felt like vendor pitches. We can’t be showing these girls just crusty old guys in flannel.”

This year the NZCS programme has been revived and is being rolled out to 50 secondary schools, under the name ICT-Connect.

Ben Smith, projects and engagement coordinator at NZCS, says he has recieved interest in the programme from over 400 schools, which demonstrates the need for it among ICT teachers.

Smith says every secondary school in New Zealand will be given the opportunity to participate, but a particular focus will be placed on engaging with girls’ schools, and schools with a high number of Maori and Pacific Island students on their rolls.

It is clear that the only way New Zealand IT companies will manage the current IT skill shortage is by making ICT an interesting subject, says Smith.

“Fresh blood is needed in IT. You can see this with the skills shortage that almost every second tech company in New Zealand is talking about. If we want these people coming in to the industry, the people who are already established in the industry need to pitch in.”

Smith says NZCS will be reaching out to the ICT industry for volunteers to participate in the programme. Volunteers will be expected to give around 30 minutes of their time, four to five times over consecutive weeks to share their ICT career experiences.

Schools will use an online booking system to facilitate visits from the volunteers.

Earlier this month, NZCS sent out a prospectus for potential industry partners to sponsor the initiative.

Smith says he is unable to mention the full details of sponsors who have signed on so far, but NZCS CEO Paul Matthews has previously said that Orion Health has made the $15,000 pledge to become a premier partner.

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