Raising a Generation of Technologists: How Gen. Z Can Fill the Tech Skills Gap

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Rarely does a day pass without a headline in the technology trades, business magazines, or newspapers about the tech skills gap. Some sources claim there may be as many as half a million unfilled IT jobs open in the U.S. at any given time.

Compounding the issue, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that IT occupations are expected to grow 12 percent by 2024. We also know that many in the tech industry are now nearing retirement age. If most of these tech-related positions go unfilled now, how will we ever close the tech employment gap?

As this gap grows, many parents of teenagers worry about what their kids will do for a living after college – if they can even afford to go to college in the first place. These parents, a group to which I belong, live at a time when College Board statistics tell us that tuition at a private four-year institution costs about $44,000 a year. More than 40 million people are carrying a combined title of more than $1.3 trillion in debt from student loans.

Like the tech skills gap, this situation is daunting and unprecedented. Yet, as the CEO of a philanthropic organization in the IT realm – and a parent with four kids, two of whom are approaching their tweenage years – I’m optimistic. Why? Because some of Generation Z, the large and culturally diverse cohort of children born during the mid-90s and later, is ready to start work. Already making up a quarter of the U.S. population, Gen. Z-ers will account for more than 20 percent of the workforce in the next five years.

How do we get Gen. Z-ers onto a tech career path, and who will influence this rising generation the most? Turns out, it’s their parents. According to the “Teen Views on Tech Careers” study from Creating IT Futures, teens rely on their parents for career advice 2:1 over any other source.

What should parents be telling their kids about technology careers? We believe they should be teaching kids to become more than technicians. They should be raising technologists.

“Technologist” is not a term we hear often in the business world, but it should be. It is a label that applies not only to the day-to-day work of people in companies of all shapes and sizes across the country, but also to a broad spectrum of industries beyond those that create software and build hardware.

So, who is a technologist? Technologists have diverse interests and multifaceted personalities, but most share these five traits:

Plans1. A Technologist Thinks Strategy First

The definition of “strategy” is a “plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim.” Technologists favor strategies before tactics – ti.e., the actions and activities implemented to achieve an objective. Before they start working with technology or put technology to work, technologists step back and plan.

2. A Technologist Has a Passion for Solving Problems and a General Sense of Curiosity

Technologists don’t see problems as obstacles to avoid. Rather, they consider problems to be opportunities for solutions. Their innate curiosity leads them to confront challenges even when those challenges are not obvious.

3. A Technologist Sees Technology in a Constructive Context

Technologists appreciate that, in the broadest sense, technology is a tool with a value determined by its application for the benefit and assistance of people, whether in their personal or professional lives.

4. A Technologist Believes Tech Is About Humans, Not Hardware

Technologists see gadgetry as solutions that serve people. No gadget has value unless it helps a customer, colleague, citizen, patient, or any other type of person a technologist may encounter during their career.

5. A Technologist Values Respect, Cooperation, and Collaboration

Technologists maintain a positive, helpful disposition on the job and in relationships in or out of the workplace. They respect their employers’ codes of conduct, appreciate the contributions of colleagues, and understand that going rogue isn’t the best way to analyze a problem, execute a strategy, or implement a solution in a business context.

Despite their position of influence, parents cannot raise the next generation of technologists to close the skills gap by themselves. They will need the support of educators, employers, and mentors from the array of successful technologists already working in the tech field today. If those technologists share what they love about what they do for a living, we’ll have that new generation of technologists ready to fill the jobs that the tech economy need filled.

Charles Eaton leads three philanthropic endeavors for CompTIA, the world’s largest IT trade association. His first book, How to Launch Your Teen’s Career in Technology: A Parent’s Guide to the T in STEM Education, is available at www.tinstem.com.

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Charles Eaton is a father to four children, ranging from elementary-school age to working adult, and leads three philanthropic endeavors for CompTIA, the world's largest IT trade association, including Creating IT Futures, CompTIA's IT workforce charity. His first book, "How to Launch Your Teen's Career in Technology: A Parent’s Guide to the T in STEM Education," is available at www.tinstem.com.