“What is your major?”
Allison Redick didn’t know how to answer that question when she enrolled in college.
But as a career specialist at Irmo Middle School in Columbia, S.C., she knows that students can no longer afford to graduate high school without a plan.
That’s why she was thrilled to bring 30 of her sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders to Colonial Life recently for Tech Day, a program created to ensure a strong future workforce by showing IT as a fun and viable career choice.
In fact, these students need to have some ideas before they leave middle school, as each eighth-grader must complete an Individual Graduation Plan that will guide their class choices outside of core courses.
“This helps them start to think about what they’re interested in,” Redick said.
That’s especially important for groups typically unrepresented in the IT field. Exposing young women and minorities to possible job opportunities in the traditionally white male-dominated IT world can create new opportunities for generations to come.
“We’re trying to expose females, and students of all races and backgrounds, to careers in IT and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math),” Redick said.
According to the US News/ Raytheon STEM Index, there’s quite a ways to go. White and Asian professionals dominate representation in STEM fields, with 87 percent of the country’s engineering workforce, 84 percent of the computing workforce and 83 percent of the advanced manufacturing workforce. And women account for just 24 percent of engineering workers, 36 percent of computing employees and 18 percent of advanced manufacturing.
“Often people stay in their comfort zone because they have a fear of failure,” Kate Miller, senior vice president and chief information office at Unum Group (Colonial Life’s parent company) told the CIO Journal.
“I didn’t grow up in an environment where I thought there were a lot of barriers and constraints, so I thankfully didn’t create them for myself either.”
During their time at Colonial Life, students designed a program application and a mobile app for their school. They took part in activities that emphasize teamwork, collaboration, creative problem solving and continuous learning opportunities.
“I spoke to middle school students every year when I was a computer technology department chair at a community college,” said Kamran Azad, senior test engineer in Information Technology at Colonial Life and organizer of Tech Day. “They’re very interested in technology but unsure of the path they should take.
“We concentrated on activities and not on technical information. Middle school students learn by doing and having fun.”