Kids Might Close Government’s IT Talent Gap

LightField Studios/Shutterstock.com

Technology literacy rates are on the rise, likely due to the emphasis placed on STEM education in schools.

Despite efforts from nearly every sector, the critical shortage of IT workers in the United States continues to grow. The Computing Technology Industry Association's latest data showed that there were 301,873 cybersecurity job openings nationwide between April and March of last year. This included 13,610 openings for government jobs. And there is little doubt that when this year’s numbers are available, they will either be unchanged or perhaps worse than before. In fact, market researcher Cybersecurity Ventures projects that there will be 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs globally by 2021.

The fact that government is competing with private industry for a limited pool of skilled talent makes it even more difficult, as agencies often don’t have deep pockets like many technology firms to draw talent. Government is trying. The Homeland Security Department listed filling technology jobs as one of its top priorities during last year’s cybersecurity awareness month activities. Various government agencies have also discussed everything from getting more flexibility to pay cybersecurity workers above the typical general schedule levels to relaxing telecommuting restrictions to make government IT jobs more attractive.

Really, anything the government can do to recruit IT workers is a good thing, but these moves help an agency poach a few workers destined for the private sector. They do nothing to expand the general pool of IT workers.

The only thing that is going to reduce the shortage overall is finding or creating more workers. That can be done by looking for people with technology aptitude in nontraditional places like with retiring military personnel and then training them for a new career. That will make a dent but the country also needs to look to younger generations.

Getting children and teens interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, fields is an ongoing educational effort nationwide. It’s one of the few ways that our nation can maintain our role as leaders in advanced fields like technology and engineering. And, if those efforts are successful, it can help to close the cybersecurity talent gap while also offering those kids good, safe and profitable careers.

We got our first glance at how successful this educational STEM program has become thanks to the release of the test scores for the National Assessment of Educational Progress in Technology and Engineering Literacy exam. The test is administered by the Education Department every four years to assess how well students understand and can use technology. It was first given in 2014, so the release of the 2018 results is really the first time that we can evaluate those efforts.

The test was given to 15,400 eighth graders in 600 schools across the country. The schools were a mix of both public and private institutions, and the kids were from a mix of various socioeconomic backgrounds and geographic areas. Basically, it was a cross-section of all students as much as possible, though the characteristics of each child were maintained along with their score. That way, the results of the assessment can give trends and general results, and also show if, say, boys are doing better than girls, or schools in the South are better teaching technology than those in Western states.

The test itself is unlike most given to students these days. It’s done on a laptop and doesn’t ask multiple choice questions. It’s not like naming the parts of a computer. Instead, students are given a scenario like trying to promote a new recreation center to local teenagers and are tasked with things like selecting the best audio clips for a podcast that will resonate with the target audience. They also do a little bit of role-playing, things like giving constructive feedback to other (computer-controlled) team members working on the same project. It’s not just about understanding how the technology works, but also how to use it to the best advantage, and how to collaborate with others in a digital environment.

The good news is that technology literacy rates are on the rise, likely due to the emphasis placed on STEM education in schools. In 2014, the number of kids who were rated as having high proficiency in technology was 43 percent. In 2018, the number had risen to 46 percent overall. But of the students who took technology classes in school, the rate jumped to 57 percent, compared to 43 percent of students who did not. That means we probably need to offer more STEM classes, and to younger students.

Another interesting thing about the national assessment is that girls did slightly better than boys in terms of technology literacy. Diving into the reason for this, it’s clear that the girls scored better, almost eight points higher in some cases, with the collaboration parts of the exam. The boys were more apt to take credit in the scenarios for a successful outcome when it was really a team effort. From my decidedly male perspective, I’m not really sure if that is a good way to judge technology proficiency, though it probably does show ways that boys can work to become more rounded workers—and probably nicer adults.

The results revealed some gaps based on income. Not surprisingly, children from private schools and those with greater wealth did better than those from poorer and public schools. It’s clear that if we really want to fix the shortage of technology workers, that we need to reach across economic divides and expose more children to STEM programs, and as early as possible.  

Government does not always look for long term solutions to the problems of today. But in the case of the IT worker shortage, there really isn’t any other choice. We either help the young people of today move into good, high-paying and highly respected technology careers to fill those gaps, or we fall hopelessly behind the rest of the world as a technology and innovation leader. The recent national assessment shows that we are finally on the right track with grooming our kids to step into those critical positions, but also that we still have a very long way to go.

John Breeden II is an award-winning journalist and reviewer with over 20 years of experience covering technology. He is the CEO of the Tech Writers Bureau, a group that creates technological thought leadership content for organizations of all sizes. Twitter: @LabGuys

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.