Schools will have an opportunity this fall to recognize the achievements of their technology staffs as part of a national effort to focus public attention on technology professionals. Sponsors of the effort, dubbed “Techies Day,” hope it will spur an interest in technology and help reduce the shortage of candidates for technology-related fields.

The national Techies Day celebration, to be held Tuesday, Oct. 5, is being organized by a group of technology companies, education groups, and professional organizations, including technology news source C/NET and the online technology recruitment company Techies.com.

Planned as an annual event, Techies Day will have technology achievement as its inaugural theme. Events will include public recognition programs, private corporate celebrations, grassroots activities, and a school outreach program, appropriately called “Techies Day at School.”

For the schools component of Techies Day, announced June 22 during the National Education Computing Conference in Atlantic City, organizers are encouraging activities that recognize a school’s or district’s technology professionals, while helping pique student interest in technology-related careers.

“Technology continues to have a significant impact in enhancing today’s education,” said Linda Roberts, special adviser for educational technology at the U.S. Department of Education. “It’s important that schools celebrate the achievements of their technology coordinators and to heighten awareness of future opportunities.”

Desperate need

For employers, a desperate need already exists for a new crop of technology professionals. According to a new study by META Group, an information technology (IT) consultant, the IT worker shortage is reaching “record levels.”

META estimates there are 400,000 unfilled IT positions in the United States, and the number of students graduating with computer and information systems degrees is far too low to meet current or future demand.

“The perception among prospective IT students is that an IT curriculum is exceptionally demanding, particularly as the employers continue to seek employees with broad-based business skills as well,” said Maria Schafer, program director for META Group Publications.

A recent Commerce Department study suggests the problem may only get worse. According to the study, titled “The Emerging Digital Economy II,” demand for IT professionals will continue to increase exponentially in the next few years.

Almost half the U.S. work force will be employed by industries that are major producers or intensive users of IT products and services by 2006, the study predicts.

A report by the American Electronics Association (AEA) also predicts the IT shortage is bound to get worse, as more and more undergraduates shy away from technology and science majors.

AEA says high-tech degrees—including those in engineering, math, physics, and computer science—declined 5 percent between 1990 and 1996. Preliminary findings from 1997 and 1998 show the trend is continuing.

Organizers of Techies Day are hoping their national event will help reverse that trend.

“We think part of the reason there’s such a shortage of technology professionals may be that their overall contributions are often overlooked,” said Techies.com chief executive Doug Berg.

Conflicting evidence

Just how much interest is there among today’s high school students when it comes to careers in computers or the internet? Depends on whom you ask.

One recent study indicated that a career in computers or the internet is the top choice among the 300 randomly selected high school students polled.

The study, conducted nationally by the Lemelson-Massachusetts Institute of Technology Program, found that 57 percent of respondents were “extremely interested” or “very interested” in computer careers.

But, oddly enough, a study focusing exclusively on high school students in California’s Silicon Valley found that few of the 1,160 students polled view a future career in technology as appealing.

Commissioned by Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network, the latter survey also showed that many students were unaware of the variety of high-tech jobs available.

“We have to reach out to students, to let them know not only how IT professionals power our economy, but how exciting and rewarding a field IT is,” said C/NET Vice President Chris Barr. “And we need to start early, when our children are young—that’s why Techies Day at School is such a critical part of the Techies Day program.”

For a complete, turnkey package of effective activities for Techies Day, visit the event’s web site and sign up for a free eMailed educators kit. The web site also will host a community bulletin board to link technology professionals with schools in their area for classroom visits.

American Electronics Association

http://www.aeanet.org

CNET

http://home.cnet.com

“The Emerging Digital Economy II”

http://www.ecommerce.gov/ede/report.html

Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network

http://www.jointventure.org

Lemelson-MIT Program

http://web.mit.edu/invent/www/ProgInfo.html

META Group

http://www.metagroup.com

Techies.com

http://www.techies.com

Techies Day Event Homepage

http://www.techiesday.com