Teens eyed as IT labor option
July 14, 1998
by Barb Cole-Gomolski
(IDG) -- In the ongoing struggle to fill open information systems jobs, desperate companies are opening up to a new source of talent -- teen-agers.
Enthusiastic, determined and adept at computers, these young recruits have appeal because they are willing to take on mundane IS chores, often for $8 to $10 per hour.
But it is a risky proposition. Employment experts warn that hiring teens may prove little more than a short-term fix. The young workers tend to get put into programming because of their lack of experience and are more likely to get bored and leave in short order, experts said.
In addition, employers must deal with the fact that teen-agers don't always understand business protocol.
Still, more and more teens are being hired as programmers, World Wide Web site designers and system administrators.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the number of computer programmers and systems analysts age 16 to 19 increased from 9,000 in 1996 to 16,000 in 1997. Federal regulations limit the amount of time teen-agers can work, but those restrictions apply only until the worker turns 16.
Teens are reading about the IS labor shortage and seeing the opportunity to make $30,000 to $40,000 per year without completing college, said Guy Smith, director of the multimedia lab at Santa Barbara State College in California.
Smith said he sees "an enormous flux" in and out of the college's program, which prepares students for careers in Web site design. "Students will take a few classes, then disappear," he said.
Hiring a technical whiz kid can pay off if the recruit has a special talent, employers said.
David Rosenfeld, director of software engineering at Nu Thena Systems, Inc., a software developer in McLean, Va., hired Doug Marcey, 17, to do programming, Web site development and systems administration because he felt Marcey was an exceptional talent. "If I hadn't hired him, somebody else would have," Rosenfeld said.
Rosenfeld and others said they aren't actively recruiting at high schools. Teen-agers typically land their IS jobs because they know someone at the company or apply for some other type of work at the firm and then move into IS.
Marcey works three days per week at Nu Thena, earn-ing "about $25,000" and takes classes two days per week at George Mason University in Washington.
Similarly, Ravi Sarin, 16, is spending his summer programming and doing Web site development work at Nomatix, a start-up network equipment manufacturer in Santa Monica, Calif. Sarin landed the job when he applied for an internship with a college professor, who happens to own Nomatix. Sarin is the only teen-age employee at the company, but he said he doesn't feel any different from his colleagues. "This industry is an equalizer," Sarin said. "Anybody with the talent can do the work."
Although teens have appeal because of their aptitude for computers and enthusiasm, employment experts cautioned that companies shouldn't look to teen-agers as a major source of IS talent.
"Most people don't want to be programmers forever," said Eva Fujan, vice president of technical recruiting at Inacom Corp., a large systems integrator in Omaha. Inacom has a scholars' program through which college students work as interns and are offered jobs upon graduation. The company prefers this method over recruiting high-school graduates because it believes the broad-based knowledge of a college education is needed to move up in the organization, Fujan said.
Marcey agreed that a college degree is a worthy pursuit even for someone like him. "A lot of high school kids can do systems administration, but not a lot of kids can be software engineers," he said.
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