When we first started thinking about how we should approach the issue of raising teens’ awareness of tech and the career opportunities within it, we had many preconceived notions about what we should do. We thought there must be a silver bullet — one solution that would turn everything around. We decided to start by finding a partner who would help us find the answer that would open the world of tech to the next generation.
In spring 2016, we partnered with the global design firm IDEO to tackle the challenge of how to steer teens toward tech careers. IDEO started by reviewing the 2015 Teen Views on Tech Careers
white paper from Creating IT Futures. The study surveyed low- to middle-income, urban African-American and Hispanic teens who were B or C students and parents of this demographic to find out how both groups viewed tech jobs, college, and careers. The study gave IDEO a starting point for its qualitative research.
Five Key Lessons
IDEO then sent researchers to several cities to speak with kids, parents, guidance counselors, and teachers. Over the course of their interviews, researchers found trends similar to the results of the Teen Tech study. Those trends can be summed up as the following five key lessons:
Dreamers vs. Reactives
- The college dream is powerful. It is shared by both students and parents regardless of socioeconomic status, gender or ethnicity.
- High school is viewed by most students and teachers as college prep. College is the dream, and high school is the path to get there. As a result, programs that focus on hands-on trades or hardware-focused tech skills are being minimized or removed from high school curricula because they aren’t perceived as preparing students for college.
- There is no silver bullet, no single source of information, no website that will draw kids to tech. Even if there were, it would have to compete with countless other websites and campaigns from other industries.
- Kids have bought into the “follow your passion” message. They want careers that allow them to do something they love.
- Role models are highly persuasive. Their ability to inspire and influence career choices down the road cannot be understated.
IDEO’s researchers also identified the target audience for NextUp. They found that youth in middle school and early high school are in an aspirational phase when thinking about their futures. They have yet to consider the practicalities of a career, money, or security. Their world is open and full of possibilities. In short, they are dreamers
Once teens reach their junior and senior years of high school, they generally enter the reality phase. They start to think more realistically and logistically about their futures and the resources available to them to achieve their goals. IDEO called this group the reactives
While we have the ability to influence both groups, the dreamers stood out to IDEO as the opportunity for the greatest impact. Because the dreamers are still discovering the world around them, they are more likely to be active participants than passive observers.
These research discoveries are the foundation of our approach for NextUp. Rather than trying to attract the dreamers to tech through a single source of information, we will go to them. Through NextUp, the dreamers will have the chance to explore the world of technology through activities that interest them and to get to know tech professionals who love their work and want to share why they love it.