Can High Schoolers Handle the Tech World? The FFE Internship Program Proves ‘Yes’

Can High Schoolers Handle the Tech World? The FFE Internship Program Proves ‘Yes’

By Mike May, Consultant for Workforce Learning | November 20, 2018

Health Leadership High School student and Future Focused Education intern Melani Alonso with her mentor Brian Henderson of Next State Systems.
“Having an intern has challenged me to examine how to represent what I do in different ways.”
“I envision innovative assessment which includes multiple ways for students to demonstrate proficiency.”
 
“I envision innovative assessment which includes multiple ways for students to demonstrate proficiency.”

Every year more than 6,000 young people in Albuquerque can’t find a job. That’s despite a business environment where virtually all industry sectors are clamoring for qualified entry-level employees. Extrapolated to a national level, that will translate into 12 million jobs going unfilled in the next decade.

But Future Focused is proposing something radical to close this gap. Instead of hiring college interns—start with high schoolers.

Recently Future Focused Education gathered 16 local technology companies into one room and asked them: “What if you hired a high school intern?” At first they were skeptical. Could a high schooler handle the tech world?

Melani Alonso, a current FFE intern, stood and shared her story. Her interest in tech was piqued by a middle school robotics program. Now she’s interning with a local embedded system firm, Next State Systems. Her daily life includes balancing her internship responsibilities while supporting her disabled mother, attending evening school, and holding down a full-time job at a fast food restaurant. At Next State Systems she’s learning Python and process management skills while designing a remote front-door sensor. Her internship experience has opened her eyes to a future beyond her current job in fast food. Melani said, “In the beginning I thought I wasn’t good enough but that changed after working with my mentor, Brian.”  

What does it take to facilitate an intern’s entry into the tech world? Melani’s mentor Brian Henderson has been wrestling with precisely this question. Melani surprised him with her talent and adaptability, but equally important, mentoring her taught him about his own craft. “I’ve spent so much time surrounded by people who are highly trained and who think like me. Having an intern has challenged me to examine how to represent what I do in different ways,” he said. Engaging a young person in his tech world helped him feel proactive in shaping future possibilities. “This is especially important, given that people don’t end up in this field by accident, women and minorities even less so. Having a hand in changing that is empowering.”

How It Works
Here’s how the model is unique: Future Focused Education works with local companies to identify the skills employers need but struggle to find in new hires. Future Focused designs paid internship positions suggested by industry professionals, simultaneously working with Tech Leadership High School to select, place, and support interns.

Young adults then graduate from high school having successfully completed two or more paid internships where they gained critical work experience. Then students are ready to pursue a meaningful career pathway and contribute to our local economy. Albuquerque becomes a healthier and more prosperous city.

Why It’s Important
It’s no secret that there are significant barriers to entry into the tech world, yet tech companies express a desperate need to grow their workforce. One participant named the tech industry’s nature as an especially strong fit for a population that has struggled with traditional notions of school, “This work is less about scores anyway and more about passion.”

By the end of the day, the entire group echoed the sentiments of one participant who offered: “I wish had internship opportunities like the ones we’re creating when I was coming up in high school—it would’ve made such a difference in my path.”

The process of integrating high schoolers into IT work settings will take a targeted effort sustained over time. On behalf of the young people and employers Future Focused serves, we are pleased to have been the impetus for re-thinking high school career readiness, and we look forward to continuing to support other businesses to make more opportunities available.

 
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Grateful to all the Tech Convening participants for your invaluable feedback:

Fuse Makerspace, Oracle Academy, RS21, NM Department of Workforce Solutions, Ingenuity Software Labs, Design Plus Architects, Lavu, Siarza Social Digital, 11 Online, Explora, Next State Systems, CSTi, Adelante, Dekker Parish Sabatini, ANM. With special thanks to to Michael Soguero of Eagle Rock for facilitating this successful event.

Want to become a mentor? Would your business consider hosting an intern? 

Contact Mike May at mike@futurefocusededucation.org or Mistie Gallegos at mistie@futurefocusededucation.org

 

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