May 01 2018

Internships Bring Students into the World of State and Local Government IT

Programs that groom high schoolers for IT jobs are helping places like Austin, Washington, D.C., and Prince George’s County, Md., make inroads with the next generation worker.

When Sawyer Timco and 19 other high school ­students were chosen to participate in an internship program with the city of Austin’s IT Department, they didn’t spend their days learning about IT jobs through typical, traditional methods, like job shadowing.

Instead, they were ­challenged to work as IT professionals and leverage their creativity to positively impact their community in a Shark Tank–style competition. After being grouped into small teams, students met directly with representatives from city agencies and interviewed them about their greatest pain points. Then, after self-selecting the project they were most passionate about, they worked together to develop, design and present innovative solutions.

A panel of judges, including industry experts and local business leaders, graded them on innovation, problem-solving, team building and entrepreneurship. In the two years since starting the program, many ideas have been fully funded and implemented.

“We are creating a workplace culture where the students experience firsthand what it’s like to be working in a real-world IT environment,” says Wei San Hui, intern program coach for the city of Austin.

Throughout the process, students are given training and then mentored by IT experts from the city as well as the local technology sector, he says.

“We told them, ‘If the sky is the limit and you are free to be as creative as you want, how would you solve this problem?’”

Timco, a senior at Austin’s Liberal Arts and Science Academy, now says he “would definitely consider working for city government at some point in my career.”

Government Gears Up to Attract the Next Generation

With the IT job market expected to grow 22 percent through 2020, Austin’s IT department isn’t the only government agency turning to internships to fuel government IT career paths.

Washington, D.C., has partnered with a non-profit in order to give high schooler’s hands-on experience with government tech and ensure career opportunities are open students of all backgrounds. Meanwhile, nearby Prince George’s County in Maryland, also has an internship program that aims to groom high school students for government IT jobs by inviting them to spend a summer with the Prince George’s County’s Office of Information Technology.

“We set out to connect with the next generation, the youth that’s going to come in and run IT at some point,” Sandra Longs, IT training director for the county, tells StateTech. “We try to go out and get the IT talent, to use the technology with some of the vexing problems confronting Prince George’s County, and those issues include low-income, foreclosure homes, health issues, high dropout rates in schools and poor test scores.”

Internship programs are just one of the many ways that governments are gearing up to entice Millennials and Generation Z workers to IT careers. For more on how states are attracting the next generation of workers to government IT, check out our feature: “State and Local IT Teams Prepare for the ‘Silver Tsunami’ with New Recruiting Tactics”.

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