Today’s headlines are full of gloomy forecasts for tech companies: There is a severe shortage of information technology skills in the workforce. I have experienced this in my own career as I regularly scour college recruiting fairs, trying to fill cyber security positions at my company.
Frequently, I’m in a fierce competition with many other organizations for the same small talent pool. Large conglomerates, small companies, non-profit organizations, academic institutions, governments, and even the U.S. military all desperately need people with cyber skills.
What has caused this situation? As I look around our local scene Downriver, it’s rare to see a kid without a cell phone. Many have their own computer. Clearly, most adolescents are a least mildly proficient using technology, but what has happened to steer kids away from a career in information technology? A little more research uncovered some cool programs in Trenton Public Schools that are preparing our students with the knowledge and skills to compete for 21st century jobs.
Google Coding Club — Anderson Elementary: Each Wednesday morning, an hour before the regular school day starts, instructor Michelle Sorensen welcomes an enthusiastic group of fifth grade students who are eager to learn computer programming. The activities, created by Google, show kids how to create their own unique story, including multiple settings and characters.
Using computer code, the students create the characters, make them move, talk, and interact with each other. Most students say the best part of the class is at the end when they get to share their stories with each other on the big screen. These future computer scientists are learning sequencing and logic skills that will allow them to design the software of the future. cs-first.com.
Safe and Secure Online — Arthurs Middle School: Over the course of two days in December, counselors Tracy Kersten and Sheryl Whitwam coordinated multiple sessions of Safe and Secure Online for all sixth grade students. The kids started out sharing how they use the Internet to connect with other people using email, text, and social media.
They also talked about playing games, watching movies, and listening to music — all online. The dialog quickly turned to the hidden dangers of social media and how seemingly innocent comments and posts on other people’s pages can reveal clues about you to strangers. They learned how to control who can see your online information, and why it’s important to protect it. They realized there is no such thing as “delete” on the Internet, and showed how you can easily lose control of information.
Through a role-playing exercise, they discovered what can happen when a stranger gets your password, how to protect your password, and how to create a strong password that no one could ever guess. These students gained an awareness of the value of their personal information and the responsibility to protect it. Their homework assignment was to go home and teach these concepts to their parents. safeandsecureonline.org.
CyberPatriot — Trenton High School: CyberPatriot is a national competition created by the U.S. Air Force as a means to teach high school students the skills needed to work in the cyber security field. Participants learn how to lock-down Windows and Linux computers, harden servers, and defend networks against cyber-attacks.
Coach Chris Crews and the team meet one day per week after school to hone their skills on practice computers. In mid-January, the six-person team is set to compete against other teams in Michigan with a chance to advance to the Regional and National levels. The U.S. is experiencing a severe shortage of workers with these skills and the CyberPatriot program is training these kids for a promising career in Information Security.
The team welcomes opportunities to help the community. If you would like to learn more about protecting yourself, your organization, or your business from cyber criminals, please contact Coach Crews at Trenton Public Schools. uscyberpatriot.org.
While there may be a current deficit in workers entering the workforce with adequate tech skills, the future looks bright in our own community.
Chris Sorensen has been in the IT industry for more than 30 years and is currently a cyber-security specialist for a Fortune 10 company. Readers are welcome to send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org