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CompTIA to Double Down on Education, Mentoring To Remedy IT Skills Gap

CompTIA plans to address the growing technology skills deficits by teaming up with educators to develop more technology curriculum and mentoring organizations to inspire the next generation of workers.

CompTIA plans to address the growing IT skills deficit by teaming up with educators to develop more technology curriculum and enlisting mentoring organizations to inspire the next generation of workers.

The IT services sector is already unable to fill 15 percent of vacant positions, and the problem is only expected to get worse with millions of IT worker retirements expected in the next eight years, said CompTIA president and CEO Todd Thibodeaux.

Today, the industry isn't even attracting enough workers to cover impending retirements, Thibodeaux said Tuesday during a State of the Industry address, much less the growth expected from emerging fields such as automation and robotics.

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"Working in our industry is still seen as too hard, antisocial, too white and introverted," Thibodeaux said during CompTIA ChannelCon 2016 in Hollywood, Fla. "Young people are just not that interested in a career in IT."

College graduates no longer have to enter the IT industry to interact with technology, Thibodeaux said, meaning that many entry-level workers opt for tech-focused positions in the medical, finance, hospitality or transportation sectors instead.

"Other industries are doing a much better job of emphasizing being welcoming to diversity," Thibodeaux said. "A tech-trained individual today is just as likely to work for your customer as they are for you."

Surprisingly, Thibodeaux said the IT industry has also been harmed by the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) movement, which he said has put software coding on a pedestal since it's seen as computational thinking. As a result, IT or hardware-focused programs such as CompTIA's A+ are being relegated to after-school status or are receiving less support from schools than they did in the past.

"Schools think the only way you can learn logic, problem solving and creativity in tech is through coding," Thibodeaux said. "Coding has hijacked the college prep mindset."

Another problem stems from divergent expectations between what IT service providers would like in prospective employees and what's readily available in the marketplace.

Many smaller solution providers maintain that they lack the time or money to invest in entry-level employees, and therefore insist that all prospective hires have at least three to five years of professional experience. As a result, there's a glut of entry-level employees who are unable to get industry experience, Thibodeaux said.

Too many technology-related mentoring programs are focusing on turning students into "little clones" of IT staff by teaching them all the worker's daily routines and tasks. Far more effective, Thibodeaux said, is conveying to students why employees are passionate about the IT industry.

"Kids don't want to know what you do," Thibodeaux said. "They want to know why you love what we do."

To help interest more young people in technology, CompTIA has turned to The New York Academy of Sciences and Spark Chicago to provide long-term, sustainable IT industry role models for students, according to Charles Eaton, CEO of CompTIA's philanthropic arm, the Creating IT Futures Foundation.

In addition, Eaton said the Next Up program will work with programs such as Northwestern University's FUSE to develop both in-school and out-of-school curriculum and projects around emerging technologies such as 3-D printing and household applications of computer-aided design (CAD).

And to attract more young woman into technology, the Creating IT Futures Foundation plans to work more closely with TechGirlz around its TechShopz in a Box program, which Eaton said are activities and workshops delivered by IT services professionals to middle school girls.

Ken Doerbecker, president and CEO of Wexford, Pa.-based Perfection Services, said coding-related programs are pervasive, but sees very little education around IT hardware anymore.

"The nuts and bolts of making a computer network work is becoming a lost art," Doerbecker said.

Perfection Services prefers to hire self-taught employees who can adjust on the fly and get up-to-speed on the latest IT trends and development without any formal training or education.

"We don't put a lot of faith in degrees, to be honest," Doerbecker said.

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