ACDS Adviser: August 2023

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A PARENT’S GUIDE TO IT CAREERS

If you think your child’s future lies with the local fast-food outlets, here are 6 excellent reasons to think again

The ACDS Team

A PROFESSOR WE know was on a college recruiting visit to a medium-size Arkansas city when the mother of an 18-year-old daughter approached him with an unforgettable request. “Please tell my daughter there’s no career future in being a mathematics major,” she said. The professor, a physicist, launched into a polite but pointed 10-minute litany of all the tech careers in which math skills are a plus, if not a requirement.

This woman’s daughter had grown up with computers and technology, and she and her generation now lived in a different world than the one their parents inhabited. “From that experience,” said our professor friend, “I learned that it’s not enough to educate the students. We need to educate their parents too.”

Here are a handful of excellent reasons for any parents reading this—or any other parents you know who should be reading this—to get behind your young person’s foray into IT careers. Heck, you may even decide to get onboard yourselves—“upskilling” isn’t a major trend in the working world today for nothing!

The breadth and depth of IT careers: It’s not just coding, not just data analytics, not just computer programming, not even just the technology industry itself. It’s banking, retail, consumer goods, healthcare, education, manufacturing, hospitality, travel, communications, legal, engineering—you name it. The world is quickly becoming transformed by technology, and every business is increasingly dependent upon the tech talent it employs. Even your local farmers now rely on technology. “You might think my tractor is just a tractor,” a farmer told us in an interview. “You would be wrong. My tractor is now a computer on wheels.”

Tech work can often be done remotely: One of the great benefits of working in IT is the workplace flexibility. Post-COVID, more and more companies are adopting a “hybrid” policy, meaning that today’s employees have the best of both worlds: in the office some days, working from home others. And because IT work is all done electronically, a company’s IT work can be done from anywhere. That’s why there are tech people throughout Arkansas working for companies all over the state—and even across the country—while enjoying the benefits of living at home.

Offering fulltime, paying positions while still learning the job: This is the advantage of Registered IT Apprenticeships, which are a key part of ACDS’s work. In the three-plus years since our first apprenticeship cohort, ACDS has helped more than 130 Arkansas employers engage some 400 apprentices in a variety of fields. “Companies have had time to see how well the apprenticeship model works,” says Lonnie Emard, ACDS’ Apprenticeship Director, “and I think the breakthrough is with the HR departments, who used to only consider people with four-year degrees. But today they need so much tech talent that they’re saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got to start doing some things differently.’ And we at ACDS have shown that we can bring them high-quality people who, even though they don’t already have the tech skills, can be taught the necessary skills—and we’ve proven that we can do the teaching. We’re even starting to work with some of our state’s largest employers—organizations that aren’t used to looking at the types of individuals that we’re bringing to the table.”

It pays very well: While starting salaries vary by company and occupation, Arkansas IT apprentices age 24-39 have started at salaries ranging from $32,000 to over $100,000, with average wage increases at 17 percent. Here’s a quick look at the average wage-increase percentage across eight different IT occupations for Registered Apprentices: Software Developer–26%; IT Business Analyst–4.5%; Computer Programmer–17%; Computer Systems Analyst–10%; Cybersecurity Specialist–21%; IT Generalist–10%; IT Project Manager–7%; Management Systems Auditor–10%. And, soon to come, AI-related professions, which pay a ton.

There’s room for everyone: High school grads, English Majors, business students, graphic designers—everyone’s welcome. Here’s Lonnie Emard again: “Whether you’re a computer science student or not, a college student or not, a parent, a career changer, a veteran, a minority or rural worker, or someone who hasn’t yet found your path—whoever you are, if you live and work in Arkansas, or you want to live and work in Arkansas, there’s a place for you in IT. And don’t think this is just about young people and entry-level jobs. In the apprentices ACDS has placed with Arkansas employers, we have folks who are 20 and folks who are 56.”

It’s the future—we’re not going back: Think about some of the other features you’ve read in past issues of the ACDS Newsletter—last month’s report on the state-of-the-art steel mill going up in Northeast Arkansas, for example; or last May’s interview about the initiative to make Arkansas a leader in electric cars; or this issue’s discussion of the new world of drone deliveries, and the jobs that go with it. Anyone who doesn’t embrace technology to some degree is going to find themselves increasingly left out of the conversation—and the opportunity.

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IN OUR EXPERIENCE speaking to young people and their parents about IT careers, one of the parental questions that comes up most often is, “How smart do they have to be?” It’s an almost unanswerable question, because how do you define smart? But most Arkansas parents these days have never had jobs in IT, so this is such unfamiliar territory to them that they don’t really know how to guide their son or daughter. They imagine IT and “technology” to require such a high level of intelligence that it’s going to be a barrier for their child to get into it.

Our response to that question is, “This isn’t even about intelligence, it’s about learning style and aptitude.” There are so many varieties of occupations in IT. It’s not all about writing code or being an operations specialist on some kind of hardware. It’s not all about math! In our work, we focus on 26 different occupations in which creativity, design, big-picture thinking, communications skills, and other “soft” aptitudes are at the heart of the work. So even if technology isn’t your child’s strong suit, that doesn’t mean there’s no place for him or her in IT.