High Schools: The New Recruiting Grounds for IT Jobs
November 28, 2018 Alex Woodie
Companies that are having trouble filling entry-level IT jobs due to the tight job market and low unemployment rate may want to check out another resource for finding and attracting workers: their local high school.
Recruitment, retention, and training of new talent are always hot topics during the roundtable discussions that take place at the CIO Summit. “It’s always a very fruitful and productive topic to see what CIOs are doing,” says Alan Seiden, who has been running the bi-annual event for IBM i tech executives for the past year-and-a-half.
So when one of the CIOs at last month’s meeting mentioned the success he was having hiring high school graduates for IBM i programming jobs, everybody’s ears perked up a little. Recruiters typically focus their educational efforts on 21- and 22-year old college students who are about to graduate, not on 17- and 18-year old high school kids.
“The high school part was a new angle that I hadn’t thought of,” Seiden tells IT Jungle. “This is the first time I’ve heard of it.”
Midrange Career Paths
The intersection of higher education and IBM i technology is well-trod ground, if not exactly a reliable generator of professional success for the IBM midrange platform.
Aside from the classes Jim Buck offers through imPower Technologies and the program he runs at Gateway Technical College in Wisconsin, which has turned out many fine young IBM i professionals over the years, there just aren’t many colleges or universities that teach IBM i technologies and concepts — let alone can boast of sustained success in landing students in real-world jobs following graduation — IBM’s Academic Initiative investments notwithstanding.
Many companies work with their local colleges to offer internships to computer science students, which is a good way for them to gain experience. That’s something the CIO for a building supply company who attended the CIO Summit has also tried. But this particular CIO has also found the internship approach also works at the local high school level, according to Seiden, who grants anonymity to all CIO Summit participants to encourage participation.
“One CIO said he contacted a local high school for students in their junior and senior and is finding great talent there,” Sieden says. “One who they eventually hired received a development award in the company. They find the developers, and they teach them free form RPG.”
While it’s not a major trend yet, the idea of recruiting IT workers straight out of high school seems to have some merit. From a financial point of view, the fact that high school graduates can get jobs that pay annual salaries in the mid-five figures as opposed to spending upwards of six figures for a Bachelor’s degree in computer science, would seem to be a powerful motivator.
“An RPG programmer does not require a background in computer science,” Seiden says. “The original RPG developers, to my understanding, were really people skilled at understanding the business, but that didn’t required computer science background. That’s still true even now with free form RPG.”
High Tech High
As a senior at a high school outside of Philadelphia, Alek Wasserman has already set his sights on a career in computers, just like his mother, Ella Wasserman, who is employed as an ILE RPG programmer at a local manufacturing company.
Alek has taken high school classes in Python and Java, and even accompanied his mother to the System i Developer conference, which was held alongside the CIO Summit in Chicago, Illinois, last month. He took Mike Pavlak’s day-long Python workshop and, while some of the terms were confusing, he got a lot out of it, he says.
“I thought it was lot of fun,” Alek Wasserman says. “It was interesting to see another language. It’s a little bit different, and being able to see differences with object oriented versus the IBM i was interesting. It took a little bit to get my head around, I guess.”
Whether his career takes him to the IBM i has yet to be seen. He is planning on majoring in computer science in college, and has applied to several programs already. “I feel like I’d like to try out a few different things in college before I get specifically into one job,” Alek Wasserman says.
His mother is supportive of his choice to study computer science at a college, although she would prefer he attended one that emphasizes practical hands-on tech experience to complement the heavy doses of computer science theory that normally expects from a college-level computer science program.
“Right now, I’m just happy he’s interested in computer programming,” she says. “I would love for him to be able to go out and see the difference [between IBM i servers and other platforms]. As far as I know, most of the universities don’t even get into that. So he would have to get that either on the job or interning somewhere.”
One college on the Wasserman’s short list is Drexel University, a local college that works with companies like IBM to place students in internships as part of its five-year program. “It’s still a bachelor’s program, but you have 18 months of paid work experience by the time you graduate,” Ella Wasserman says. “It’s fantastic.”
Grooming Perfect Candidates
Companies that run older, more established computer platforms like IBM i and IBM System z mainframes face similar challenges in the human resources department. Both platforms have a large contingent of Baby Boomers who are beginning to retire (and die, unfortunately) in significant numbers, and both platforms are having difficulty recruiting younger workers.
Perhaps the challenge is due to the stigma of working on a “legacy” technology, or the perception that languages like RPG and COBOL aren’t useful in today’s rapidly evolving technological landscape. It’s difficult to know the answers to such questions, and it’s speculation in any event.
Given the very real challenges that IBM i shops face in recruiting the next generation of workers and the high cost of a college education, working with high schoolers could be an example of hitting two birds with one stone, so to speak.
“I have heard from CIOs that younger people coming in are very flexible and learn very quickly. They are open to learn new ways of doing things,” Sieden says. “There’s definitely demand for programmers, people in IT. You might say it’s the early bird catching the developer.”
Recruiting high schoolers is an option Seiden is considering recommending for the companies he works with through his consulting company, Seiden Group.
“They’ve taken the bulls by the horns to do something and have just committed themselves to doing this,” he says. “They say ‘We’ve got to create this talent ourselves. We can’t expect people to be trained already by someone else.’ They have to take responsibility for it.
“I saw a level of enthusiasm for this approach,” Seiden continues. “I feel like there is a trend.”