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9/14/2005
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New Program Aims To Woo More Kids Into IT Careers

Microsoft and the Society for Information Management are teaming up to counter the view that all IT jobs are being outsourced offshore and IT salaries are shrinking.

With the number of students enrolling in technology-related majors declining nationally, Microsoft and the Society for Information Management are launching a national program to woo more U.S. students into pursuing careers in IT.

The new Accelerate IT program, which will feature half-day seminars for college students, debuts in New York City on Oct. 5 at Pace University. A second seminar is planned for Boston-area students at Northeastern University in December. The goal for 2006 is for at least 10 additional seminars in other cities, says Phil Zwieg, who is VP of IS at Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. and an executive board member of SIM, whose 3,000 members include CIOs, IT executives, academics, and technology leaders.

The seminars will be led by regional SIM members and local Microsoft executives in an attempt to dispel "myths" about the IT profession, says Mike Maas, Microsoft general manager for U.S. enterprise marketing. Some SIM leaders estimate that nationally there has been a 10% decline in the number of students enrolled in technology-related majors today, compared with 10 or 15 years ago. However, enrollment in IT-related majors at some universities has reportedly dropped by as much as 50% to 80%, says a SIM spokesman.

At Northeastern University in Boston, there's been "a rapid decline" in the number of students pursuing majors in studies related to information systems management, says Leslie Ball, senior executive professor at Northeastern University College of Business Administration. A few years ago, 300 students were enrolled in the university's five-year MIS program. Today there are only about 180 students, he says. For the current academic year, only 19 students signed up, which means that enrollment will slip to about 100 students for the five-year program unless more kids are persuaded to study IT.

Among the myths and factors that discourage students from pursuing IT careers are fears about IT jobs being outsourced offshore and supposed declines in IT salaries, as well as the bad taste left over from the dot-com bust, say SIM leaders. When it comes to the myth of disappearing jobs, "we have a significant problem in Redmond to staff" positions, Maas says.

"Jobs are out there, we could place any of [Northeastern students] in them," Ball says.

A preliminary study released this week by SIM in Boston, at its annual SIMposium conference, says that critical tech skills that will likely be in short supply between now and 2008 include project management and "business domain" or business-savvy tech capabilities. Besides dealing with the declining number of younger IT workers entering the field, companies will be faced with worsening expertise shortages as their older baby-boomer professionals begin retiring, according to the SIM report.

The Accelerate IT seminars will include keynote speakers from the technology industry, discussion panels, and hands-on IT activities. SIM is hoping to get about 200 students to attend each seminar. Initially, the focus will be on wooing freshmen and sophomores, especially those who haven't yet declared a major, Zwieg says. Later, the program could extend to high-school students, he says.

Some SIM chapters already have a head start in their own programs to attract even younger students into possible IT careers. This summer, the SIM chapter in Memphis, Tenn., launched a one-week summer IT camp for 16 students, ages 12 to 15.

"The program was a raging success," says John Oglesby, president of the SIM chapter in Memphis and director of IT strategy at ACH Food Companies Inc., a food manufacturer. The Memphis chapter worked with the local library and schools in recruiting kids to the program, which aimed to get youngsters interested in technology "before they go to college, while they're still deciding what they want to be when they grow up," he says. It also was important to recruit kids younger than 16 because "once they get their driver's licenses, you won't get them to go," to these kinds of programs, he quips.

Due to the interest from the students, the program also is carrying over into the school year, with four-hour seminars and activities one Saturday every month, he says.

Oglesby's chapter spent about $2,500 on the summer camp program, which was free for the kids, and included guest speakers and hands-on activities such as teams building their own Web sites. Each day also featured "BSOs, or bright shiny objects," like BlackBerries, software to edit movies, and a demonstration using ping-pong balls to show how Bernoulli's principle works in disk drives, he says. "Believe it or not," he says, "that disk-drive 'BSO' demo was the most popular with the kids; they loved it."

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