Some stereotypes die hard. Despite concerted efforts to educate about the breadth of the IT field and the many and varied career opportunities it offers, high school students still harbor some misconceptions.
The NEW Connect IT job and career fair is all about showing students the gratifying — and lucrative — opportunities an IT career can offer. Whether someone is an introvert or extrovert, analytical or creative, there’s an IT role to suit that person, says Kim Iversen, director of the NEW IT Alliance. The important part, she says, is exposing students to the possibilities.
“At the most basic level, students can’t envision themselves doing something they don’t understand. If you’re not aware of a job opportunity, you’re not going to think of it as a career,” she says.
Now in its third year, the event continues to grow in scope and size. Held its inaugural year at Fox Valley Technical College’s D.J. Bordini Center, it outgrew that space and moved to Lambeau Field its second year. In its second year, it doubled the number of booths and attendees, from 25 to 50 and 250 to 500, respectively.
This year, Iversen says she hopes to see 750 high school students attend the Nov. 21 event at Lambeau Field. Registration is still underway, but last year students from 12 school districts from Sheboygan north to Green Bay attended. The fair is also open to college students and community members looking to learn about job opportunities.
The content and flow of the event continues to evolve. Based on feedback from previous events, Iversen says this year’s will be laid out differently. Schools will come in waves and sign up for one of three times slots. Educators said they wanted students to have more time for exploration, so groups of students will spend time talking with some of the 50 employers in attendance and then meet with higher education institutions.
“The hope with this year is they’ll have a better understanding of IT as a field and the roles and then can go and ask some better questions of the higher eds,” Iversen says.
New this year, the event will kick off with more fanfare. A yet-to-be-determined welcome speaker will help build excitement about IT careers, and IT professionals will put on a skit designed to showcase IT roles. Hortonville High School student and NEW IT Alliance intern Grace Vanden Heuvel will lead a panel discussion with college students and new IT hires.
The event also appeals to college students, who can connect with employers about job and internship openings and learn about opportunities for additional education. For example, technical college students can meet with representatives from four-year colleges and universities.
It never ceases to surprise Iversen the stubborn misconceptions that remain about IT careers. Many high school students still think of coding as the only IT application. While coding remains a huge need that will touch roles beyond the IT department, it’s far from the only IT career available. In fact, IT roles encompass 12 distinct areas, she says.
Beyond coding, top IT job opportunities include cybersecurity, business analyst and project manager roles. Professionals with SAP skills also are highly sought after, Iversen says.
Perhaps one of the fastest-growing and most in-demand roles is data analyst. The NEW Manufacturing Alliance’s Industry 4.0 survey identified it as one of the most needed IT skill sets, and colleges and universities are responding accordingly, tailoring programs to meet that need.
“Data analytics is huge. Companies just cannot get enough help and they can’t find enough resources to fill their data analytics teams,” Iversen says.
An IT career can offer students a job that’s both fulfilling and financially rewarding. Code.org shows Wisconsin has more than 6,800 IT jobs available with an average salary of $75,912 — compare that to the state’s overall average salary of $45,240.
In addition to narrow conceptions about what IT is, many fail to understand that the need for these skills touches employers in every industry. Last year, a state senator toured the event with Iversen and expressed surprise that a construction company would be in attendance. IT is no longer narrowly confined, and any business with a website, for example, needs IT, Iversen says.
Teachers who have brought groups of students to the event in the past say it has helped give students a clearer picture of IT careers and the opportunities available to them.
“Not only did students learn and communicate, their futures now have an extra spark to motivate them to do well in high school and graduate confidently. The fair showed them a bright light to begin their independent life as successful young adults,” Sturgeon Bay High School business and information technology teacher Michelle Gibson said of the event.
Iversen says she hopes students will take away that IT offers them exciting opportunities close to home. While Silicon Valley and the coasts may be splashier about it, companies in Northeast Wisconsin are also embracing cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, augmented reality and virtual reality, she says.
“There are some really amazing career opportunities here in Northeast Wisconsin. You don’t have to go to the big cities or the coastline to play with and work with exciting, lead-edge technologies,” she says.
NEW Connect IT Job and Career Fair
Thursday, Nov. 21
To register or learn more, visit newconnectit.com