Influencing young people to choose a specific career path can be challenging. Kids in middle school and early high school (ages 12 to 16) may not relate many of their current interests to tangible careers. While there has been a substantial growth in exciting technology-based initiatives in recent years, they don’t necessarily connect the dots between program activities and potential career paths.
NextUp’s approach aims to address this issue through a series of programs that are built on the following components:
- Support and enhance partners’ existing youth engagement initiatives through curricula, and
- Inspire and engage teens through mentorship.
We are working with partners to provide additional or improved IT-related content and avenues for engagement. In parallel, we are recruiting mentors from CompTIA’s network to support programs by providing expertise and shared passion for technology. Across all of our work, we are reaching out to students in the context of their interests and fostering opportunities to connect those interests with different facets of tech.
Why this approach?
- By partnering with existing initiatives, we can learn through time-tested youth channels, enhance programs by integrating our tech knowledge, and make inroads into the world of youth outreach without having to reinvent the wheel.
- By incorporating mentors, we can provide additional support and resources to partners and programs while giving CompTIA members and alumni the chance to get involved in their communities, share what they love, and show kids the many paths to tech careers.
NextUp will evolve as we learn what approaches are effective. As we adjust our approaches and begin developing programs with our partners and mentors, we will be guided by three primary goals
- To grow awareness of and engagement with technology in middle school and early high school teens,
- To create and enhance curriculum and projects that include the application of technology as an important component, and
- To provide strong tech role models who will share their knowledge and passion for technology with students.
Our approach is based on two principles: build relationships and honor youth interests and passions.
Build relationships first
Influence comes from building trust. Trust is built on relationships. If we want to inspire teens to pursue tech as a profession, we need to connect them to individuals in the field who will get to know them and show them that a tech career is obtainable and accessible by many paths. We are partnering with like-minded organizations: We are forging partnerships with organizations like FUSE, New York Academy of Sciences, and TechGirlz to maximize available resources.
We are connecting teens with mentors. Providing activities for kids to interact with technology is only a starting point. Mentors are the true catalyst for engaging with kids, validating their interests, expanding their views of themselves and the world around them, and making the career path to tech seem feasible.
Honor youth interests and passions
Teens are less likely to participate in programs that don’t relate to them and their interests, which can be as wide-ranging as music, robotics, art, gaming, or health. In order for NextUp to be successful, it must reach kids within the context of their genuine interests. Otherwise, there will be no true engagement. This principle informs how we approach relationship building with our partners and mentors as well as how we develop curricula and structure programs.
Avoid teaching straight tech.
For the middle school audience, taking a single, tech-focused approach would limit our reach and ultimately undermine our goals to connect students to technology in a meaningful way. Instead, we identify intersections between students’ interests and tech. This enables us to reach more students—particularly those who are interested in topics such as art or music that aren't typically associated with tech.
Inspire through abstraction.
Students are more likely to be inspired by activities they enjoy than by receiving a literal exposure to tech. By abstracting content and skills associated with tech, we can draw connections between activities of interest and the tech world and create diverse, wide-ranging subject matter.
Offer diverse entry points.
Building programs based on diverse topics and integrating tech into those topics give kids new ways to connect with technology.
Guide, don’t control.
When choosing partners, training mentors, and developing curricula, we must ensure all programs focus on inspiring and supporting students' choices, not controlling them. This is especially important when working with younger students who have many choices in front of them. Emphasizing guidance rather than control helps to ensure that interactions with students and youth organizations feel genuine, neutral and welcome.