Why it’s important to attract teenagers to careers in IT

While today’s teenagers are digital natives, most recent studies suggest that the Australian education system isn’t equipping them adequately for the future of work

Today’s teenagers are true digital natives. Technology is so inextricably woven into every aspect of their lives that most teenagers can provide tech support to their parents without even breaking a sweat. With technology use firmly entrenched, and with teenagers demonstrating a love of all things tech, it’s somewhat surprising that Australia still suffers from a skills shortage in the IT industry. 

A longitudinal study of Australian children found that just one in 10 teenaged boys stated a desire to work in IT, and girls rarely mentioned working in IT. This includes the number of teenagers who want to be a ‘YouTuber’ or ‘games developer’, which are seen as glamorous occupations. 

While this could be seen as worrisome for the IT industry, the reality is that very few children grow up to build the careers they wanted when they were younger. Only 6 per cent of adults follow their childhood dream careers*, and most Australians will change employers 17 times and have five different careers throughout their working lives. 

Moreover, technology is so all-pervasive that the chances of it not being part of these children’s future careers are negligible. 

However, while today’s teenagers are digital natives, most recent studies suggest that the Australian education system isn’t equipping them adequately for the future of work. This has recently become a key focus for governments and industry bodies around the world, so there is hope that the education system will evolve to meet the needs of tomorrow’s workforce. 

The task for the IT industry remains to attract and recruit talented people to work in a variety of technology-related roles. This will require less of an emphasis on the traditional view of IT as programmers in isolated jobs, and more of an emphasis on the opportunities for people with different skills and personalities to succeed in IT. As with the arrival of any new generation, companies need to understand the motivations and mindsets of potential employees, and communicate with them accordingly. 

According to the Department of Employment’s Industry Employment Projects 2017 Report, IT is the second-fastest growing industry by 2022. This means today’s teenagers are perfectly positioned to catch and ride the wave of technology opportunity. 

One potential way to pique teenagers’ interest in IT careers is to talk about specific occupations such as working with robots, artificial intelligence, or virtual reality. These emerging technologies have moved from the realm of sci-fi films and into reality, creating exciting new options for careers in IT. 

Australian schools and industry must ensure that young people are made aware of the exciting and, potentially, lucrative careers on offer in IT. The education system must evolve to prepare them for the future of work while businesses must find innovative ways of supporting programs that expose young people to the industry. By working together, Australian businesses and government can shore up the future of the IT industry in this country.   

Karen Drewitt  is CompTIA ANZ Channel Community chair and general manager at The Missing Link 

*Javier G. Polavieja and Lucinda Platt, “Nurse or Mechanic? The Role of Parental Socialization and Children’s Personality in the Formation of Sex-Typed Occupational Aspirations”, Social Forces (2014) 93 (1): 31-61 first published online May 12, 2014.

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