With so many information technology (IT) jobs unfilled nationwide each year, schools are teaming up with computer corporations to develop programs that will teach those skills to high school students who wish to enter the work force immediately instead of attending college.

The short-term financial benefits are exceedingly attractive—salaries above $50,000 per year for network administrators with a year of experience—but educators say the headlong rush into these training programs carries some downside, too. Experts recommend working with programs with the best track records or new programs with the backing of respected organizations.

Top programs today include:

1. Cisco Networking Academy (http://www.cisco.com/warp/public/779/edu/academy). Created by Cisco in conjunction with numerous school districts. Cisco provides the courses (and often some equipment) in computer network design, construction, and maintenance. After completion, students can take tests for certification as network administrators on Cisco equipment.

2. NetPrep (http://www.3com.com/education/programs/netprep.html). A certification program sponsored by 3Com that works through high schools.

3. Authorized Academic Training Provider (http://www.microsoft.com/education/aatp/default.asp). Sponsored by Microsoft. As with the Cisco program, this is a certification-oriented program that is provided to schools at no charge. Students can earn as many as seven certifications.

While the programs created by software and networking companies provide technical skills, they may be inadequate in preparing students for the “softer” skills necessary to get a job and succeed in the workplace. Many young IT administrators who completed certification-style programs in high school realize after a couple of years that they are missing out on new opportunities without the communications skills to participate effectively in meetings and/or write reports and memos.

As a result, some IT programs are trying to meld both computer training and life-skills training:

4. REALskills! (http://www.realskills.com). Created by National Computer Systems Inc., SmartForce Systems Inc., and Manpower Professional to help high schools provide students with a wide range of job-seeking skills. These online courses include modules on interviewing, writing resumes, and other “soft” skills, as well as training students in managing computer networks.

5. Academy of Information Technology (http://www.cord.org/lev2.cfm/93). Created a few months ago by the National Academy Foundation and the Center for Occupational Research and Development. It’s not a certification-oriented program, but instead seeks to interest students in the broad application of IT. These courses often are integrated into the rest of a high school curriculum. Computers might be used in a math class, and the impact of computers on artists may be discussed in a literature class. One developer of this new program observes that it follows a liberal arts curriculum far more than a computer curriculum.