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Attracting the next generation of IT workers

Sim Ahmed attends an ICT Connect event organised by the IITP at Lynfield College in Auckland

Computerworld recently tagged along to an ICT Connect event at Lynfield College, organised by the Institute of IT Professionals (IITP) to evangelise IT careers in schools.

The initiative sees New Zealand technology workers volunteer about an hour of their time to go into schools and deliver presentations describing what they do in their day to day work, and selling the sector as an attractive career path.

The programme is rolling out to 50 schools in New Zealand this year, with 150 more schools scheduled for 2013. ICT Connect is funded by over 40 organisations including Orion Health, Datacom, and Intergen - many of which are in desperate need of a new generation of IT workers.

Ben Smith, projects and engagement coordinator at IITP and the lead for the organisation's youth orientated initiatives, says ICT Connect is an industry response towards fighting future skill shortages and discovering new talent.

"We also know that as a result of the programme, students have changed their future secondary school subjects to be more technology aligned," says Smith.

Over 200 IT professionals have volunteered so far, and Smith says around a fifth of them have been women.

The presentation at Lynfield College was the first of two to be held at the school, and around 60 students turned up just before lunch time for a 40 minute presentation from Smith and software developer Ben Gracewood.

Smith started off with some general facts about IT careers in New Zealand, and what kind of salary prospects there were for graduates of university IT courses.

The students were impressed to hear they could expect to earn more than $45,000 in an entry level role, which according to the August 2012 TradeMe Jobs salary guide edges out entry level positions in engineering, accounting, and law.

He tried to dispel the myth that IT careers were only for "geeks and nerds", and showed a video of computer animators and robotics engineers to try and win over the students.

Gracewood, Metro practice lead at Marker Metro, was the main speaker for the day. His presentation briefly covered what it is a programmer does, and what are the cool parts of his job.

His enthusiastic presentation talked about the travel he does as a part of his work, and how programmers work to solve problems in different industries, at times taking digs at himself to add a bit of humour.

"At the end of this I hope you want to be like Ben, but less fat," he says.

Although Gracewood is an accomplished app developer, it was his pocket full of the latest smartphones and a photo of him swimming with Kim Dotcom that prompted the biggest reaction from the students.

Gadgets and celebrity, it seems, are the easiest ways to attract youth to IT.

At the end of the presentation, while the majority of students took the first opportunity to run off to lunch - five or six stayed behind to talk to Gracewood and ask questions.

Gracewood says he was very pleased with the session and the response he had received.

Before he went on stage to speak Computerworld asked him why he was participating in ICT Connect.

"I want to open a door for these kids. Everybody uses technology nowadays, more Kiwi kids should be involved in making that possible," says Gracewood.

"For New Zealand to succeed we need to be better technology exporters, so we need more people interested in working in IT."


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