Looking For More Diverse Tech Talent? Check Your High Schools

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Jun 21, 2018

Tech recruiters today are finding themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place.

On one side, there’s an increasing pressure to build diverse teams, which reaches a boiling point every time a story about tech’s diversity problem dominates the news cycle. On the other side, 86% of hiring managers and tech recruiters say it’s challenging to find and hire tech professionals. There’s every reason to believe the situation won’t improve any time soon. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for software developers will grow to 1.6 million by 2026, a 24% increase over 2016.

Companies are spending large amounts of resources to attract and cultivate highly skilled and diverse workers. Fortunately, there’s a solution that can deliver the immediate impact recruiters need and move the needle on systemic change.

Untapped potential

Every company has an internship program for college students or recent graduates, however, given the low cost and huge benefits of high school internships, trained high school interns should also be considered. Tapping into these students could be the key ingredient for building a diverse and resilient workforce, while setting up the next generation of technology workers for success.

To get the most out of a high school internship program, companies have to first expand their understanding of what high school students can do. The most common projects in high school internship programs include social media marketing, data entry and admin work. Meanwhile, investments in education are starting to catch up to the demands of a 21st century workforce, and more students are gaining technical skills and professional experiences in high school that equip them for a wide variety of roles.

Patience, a 2017 high school graduate, left school with paid internship on the engineering team at a health insurance company. This opportunity was secured due to her coding experience with my company, ScriptEd, a free web development course offered to under-resourced high schools, where students learn skills that can be applied to real-world software engineering jobs.

This internship allowed her to build a new app to help the company aggregate and visualize data. As the youngest staff member, Patience was not intimidated but eager to serve as an integral part of the team and her managers even noted that she continuously brought fresh ideas and energy into the workplace.

While Patience’s internship was initially for five weeks, the company was so impressed they hired her to stay on full-time until she went off to college, where she is currently majoring in computer science.

Good for business

Companies and recruiters have an opportunity to work closely with schools and community-based organizations to develop this emerging workforce and train more highly-skilled engineers than previously imagined.

The short- and long-term impact of this approach is powerful:

Cultivate talent — Four out of five students who pursue STEM careers decide to do so before they leave high school, according to a 2011 survey from Microsoft and Harris Interactive. Exposing students to tech careers in high school will ensure a strong talent pool in the future. High school students know they need to develop employable skills, and there’s no shortage of tech jobs for the foreseeable future. Other programs such as Code Academy and Girls Who Code are also doing a great of job introducing engineering to prospects at a young age.

Increase diversity — Companies that partner with schools and organizations serving low-income and underrepresented youth are tackling their diversity goals on two fronts. First, they are increasing diversity within their companies and intentionally building a culture that both values and supports underrepresented voices. They are also confronting disparity on a systemic front by helping to intervene early in students’ careers, helping to close the resource and opportunity gaps in marginalized communities.

Develop leaders — Managers who work with high school interns say that the experience helps them build their own leadership and communication skills. A well-designed internship program helps set managers up for success by providing training and regular check-ins to offer support. In our program, technical interns are often paired with junior software developers, who say they learn management skills that help them advance in their careers.

Give back — Companies looking for local volunteer projects or other ways to give back to the community should consider hiring a high school intern as a high-impact social responsibility initiative that also aligns to other company goals and initiatives. An internship program is a unique opportunity to unite HR, CSR and technical teams for a rewarding experience that benefits all.

While the tech talent shortage and diversity problem won’t be fixed overnight, recruiters should start looking at local high schools to meet their future candidates where they are right now.

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