As the skills gap continues to grow, now is the time to prepare students for careers in computer science through early education.

Students in the United States are being left behind in the great race of the technological revolution. The reality is our country’s students are not competing with talent from other nations, whose students pursue careers in computer science more often. A projection of computer and information technology career growth by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reveals this sector will expand 12 percent between 2014 and 2024. With an estimated 488,500 new roles expected to be introduced, the median salary for these roles is also expected to grow from an already high $82,860 in May 2016.

Another alarming trend is the tendency for women and people of color to bypass careers in computer science. In January 2016, under Barack Obama’s presidency, The White House revealed its plan to increase student engagement for girls and young students of color who were underrepresented in computer science and noted, “…in the fewer than 15 percent of all high schools that offered any Advanced Placement (AP) CS courses in 2015, only 22 percent of those who took the exam were girls, and only 13 percent were African-American or Latino students.” To ensure students are prepared for careers in computer science, start education in this subject early and use the following strategies to ignite interest in this field.

1. Cool Kids Code

Among students, one of the prevailing misconceptions about careers in computer science is that only “nerds” are interested in technology. Kids are more likely to imitate behaviors from celebrities whom they think are cool. Not only are models Karlie Kloss and Lyndsey Scott, actor Ashton Kutcher, musician, IndyCar driver J.R. Hildebrand, and basketball player Chris Bosh successful in their professions, but they are also coders and computer scientists. Keep current on celebrity news and find examples to show kids that it is cool to code.

2. Speaking in Code

careers in computer scienceAround the country, states have been considering adding coding courses as options to fulfill foreign language requirements. While traditional foreign language classes remain important, offering coding as an option will better serve students as they prepare for careers in computer science. Become an agent for change by rallying parents, fellow teachers, administrators, and students to pressure local and state governments to include coding in foreign-language academic requirements.

3. Make the Tech Connections

For women and people of color, careers in computer science have long seemed to comprise a group in which they weren’t included or welcome. For groups who are underrepresented in this field, breaking through the glass ceiling or color barrier can be intimidating. Help these students prepare for careers in computer science by forging connections with professional groups, such as the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), and Society of Women Engineers, in addition to initiatives including the #YesWeCode Fund – launched by The Iron YardKode with KlossyCode2040, and Black Girls Code.

4. Young Hearts Code Freely

careers in computer scienceThe key to encouraging students to continue with computer science education is to begin lessons in the subject early enough to cultivate interest throughout high school and into college. Middle school teachers must make computer science fun and relevant, while high school educators should forge relationships with administrators from local elementary schools to build partnerships that prepare pupils for success in this subject.

5. Launch a CSC

Creating an inviting computer science space for like-minded kids to collaborate is essential. Start by introducing students to this subject through launching a computer science club (CSC). Hold elections for president, vice president, secretary, and any other important roles that might be necessary to the club’s success. Within this space, kids can discuss the latest computer science news, share coding secrets, work on projects, and advise each other regarding college programs or career choices.

Through revealing the innovative ways in which technology can be used and making the subject relatable, teachers are able to reach students who have never considered careers in computer science. The only way to change the way students approach careers in the future is to transform the education they receive to support advancements in technology.

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