Bridging the Talent Gap: To maintain a thriving economy, students need to be prepared for high-demand, well-paying jobs, yet there are currently more jobs than skilled workers to fill them. This series looks at how schools are preparing students for the future workforce.
Wyoming — Senior Jack Ballard and junior Toby Ensing are the kind of tech-savvy teens that adults turn to for help with their gadgets. They understand and enjoy the digital world.
“I’ve grown up on computers,” said Toby. “When I was a couple years old I would sit on my father’s lap when he was playing his video games. I’ve always enjoyed computers and playing video games and learning about computers.”
Added Jack: “I’ve always been the techie kid. I’ve always been the IT guy in my family, so knowing how to use computers has always been my thing.”
They are the first two students at Wyoming High School to earn their CompTIA Fundamentals Plus certification. It’s one of several IT certifications students can earn through a new, grant-funded program, “Computer and Information Systems Security and Computer Systems Networking and Telecommunications,” which includes a slate of courses at the school.
“They are very young for doing this,” said instructor Cheryl Small of their accomplishment. “These are adult certifications.”
Toby and Jack each scored high enough on their final exam to qualify to take the certification test, a credential useful for entry level jobs in IT. Now, they are ready to continue building their skills and possibly work in the field.
“(The certification) would show employers you are willing to learn this stuff and able to learn this stuff, so they can maybe pay for more of your education when they hire you,” said Toby, who plans to attend Kent Career Technical Center for its Information Technology program next school year. He hopes to eventually pursue a degree in computer technology.
“These types of jobs are always going to be needed in almost every business. In the food industry you need someone to manage computers, in medical, you need someone to manage databases. Almost every job needs some IT,” Toby said.
Jack, who is in the Tech Center’s Middle College Program, for which he plans to earn his associate’s degree from GRCC, said he hopes to get a job in IT and work to save money to pay for a bachelor’s degree.
“The further and further we go into the world of tech, the more everything becomes integrated with it,” said Jack. “I have a feeling the job opportunities are only going to expand from here.”
A Head Start in IT
Students in the new program are currently learning about the concept of ethical hacking, which involves being hired by a company to test security and expose vulnerabilities. They will have the chance to earn another certification in that area at the end of the course.
Wyoming students also have the opportunity to take courses and earn certifications in Advanced Cybersecurity, Device Configuration and Troubleshooting, Networking Configuration and Design, CCNA Routing and Switching, Windows Server and Advanced Operating Systems. The district pays for certifications, which can cost between $100 and $200.
While other high schools and the Kent Career Tech Center offer IT programs, Wyoming High School is the only school in the area to offer a cybersecurity course, said Cary Stamas, director of career readiness for Kent ISD.
“They are doing great work at Wyoming to get some pretty rigorous credentials done,” he said. “It sets them up for a great future in IT.”
Courses are all online, allowing students to work through them either remotely or in Small’s classroom. Students are required to take their certification exams in specific testing rooms with Small watching remotely. She plans to add a testing center within her classroom in the near future.
Jack and Toby are right that demand for IT professionals is huge. Employment in computer and information technology occupations is projected to grow 11% from 2019 to 2029 — much faster than the average for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These occupations are projected to add about 531,200 new jobs, stemming from greater emphasis on cloud computing, big data, and information security.
At Wyoming, 20 students are now enrolled in the courses, and Small is seeing growing interest. She said the program offers a great way to start a career path toward a high-earning industry that doesn’t necessarily require a college degree. Many jobs in the field pay well into the six figures, and companies will hire people who have a stack of certifications.
“The demand is so high, and nobody is producing enough cybersecurity experts,” Small said, noting that many companies also will pay for workers to continue their education.
“College is not the be-all and end-all for these kids,” she said. “The certifications show that they can do the work.”