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Hour of Code program aims to push people toward IT careers

By NATHAN PHELPSFebruary 11, 2019

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Discuss the need for information technology professionals around Wisconsin and the nation, and many businesses will tell you they can’t find enough.

That has educators working to prepare students and adults for careers in the in-demand profession, sometimes one hour at a time.

“When you look at Wisconsin, we have almost 8,000 computing jobs that are open. So how do we fill that pipeline?” Michelle Schuler, who manages Microsoft’s TechSpark program in Wisconsin, told the Green Bay Press-Gazette. “We can look at upskilling our existing talent, look at upskilling displaced workers, and we look at developing our youth.”

Three hundred people around northern and eastern Wisconsin were given a hands-on introduction to the in-demand career possibilities in information technology through the Hour of Code program at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College.

“Our goal is to get the general public to understand what software development is, what coding is, and what great opportunities there are in that workforce,” said Julie Ebben-Matzke, associate dean for information technology at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay.

There’s a need for computer professionals across the region, state and nation, with business ranging from transportation to insurance seeking qualified workers.

Computer occupations in the state are expected to grow by almost 11,000 jobs by 2024, according to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. That’s about a 15 percent increase since 2014.

NWTC has hosted Hour of Code for four years. It’s a nationwide program from Code.org aimed at introducing kids and adults to the basics and possibilities of software development. About 300 people attended events across NWTC campuses in 2018, up from 12 at the inaugural event.

The local Hour of Code program partnered with Microsoft for this year’s event, offering it at several locations around the region — places like Aurora in Florence County, Sturgeon Bay and Marinette — to reach students in smaller communities where IT is in as much a need as larger cities.

“Those kids deserve the same opportunities that you do living in Green Bay,” Ebben-Matzke said. “Unfortunately, those smaller school districts may not offer IT classes because they don’t have the money or don’t have the teachers.”

It’s important they understand the career opportunities that exist out there, and even the business owners in those communities have IT needs, she said.

Information technology covers a swath of jobs, including software developers, computer support, security, system administration, business analysts, web developers, people who fix and set up computers.

Helping students and others find jobs in tech careers are part of a wider economic development effort aimed at keeping Wisconsin competitive in a changing economy — and a means to help keep young talent in the state.

Microsoft’s TechSpark program is designed to help in that task by providing technology-based education and further expanding broadband into rural areas.

Employers and educators stress the tech jobs that are already in Wisconsin, including those tied to professions that have been stalwarts of the state’s economy for more than a century.

“Look at our manufacturing floor when it comes to automation,” Schuler said. “The jobs created yesterday may not be the same jobs that are needed tomorrow. This may be working more with the machine than being the one assembling things.”

Ebben-Matzke said there’s also more opportunity for workers graduating with two-year degrees as employers feel the pinch of a tight labor market. The very technology future workers (and entrepreneurs) are studying also allows them to stay in their home state.

“Years ago, we thought you had to go out to California if you wanted to do anything with IT,” she said. “We have students who are big into writing gaming apps. They can write their gaming apps here and sell them online. They don’t have to go to California.”

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Information from: Press-Gazette Media, http://www.greenbaypressgazette.com

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