Sparking Early Interest in Indy’s High-Tech Careers

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Across Indianapolis, middle-schoolers are settling into the first weeks of the school year.  As they tackle new lessons and grapple with their daily dose of homework, these students aren’t thinking about their place in Indiana’s future economy.  That’s ok, because state policymakers are increasingly doing so.

Keeping an eye on employment trends, it’s clear that Indiana needs a new generation of tech-savvy workers.  This year, the General Assembly added new funding to strengthen science, technology and math programs, and mandated that 8th graders begin using the Department of Workforce Development’s Career Explorer portal to learn about the state’s fastest-growing fields.

Technology is one of these booming industries.  Majors like computer science, programming and computer engineering offer lucrative opportunities to new college graduates: According to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, the typical tech graduate (bachelor’s degree) can expect to earn nearly $50,000 a year out of school – 50% more than the average of all four-year degrees in Indiana.

These healthy paychecks match a healthy demand for computer skills across our economy.  But in middle school, college seems a long way off – and the job market is even more abstract.  It’s hard to make the connection between the smartphones in their hands and computers in their classrooms and a long-term career path.  It’s never too early to spark their interest – and that’s where programs like Junior Achievement (JA) JobSpark come in.

In late September, Marion County 8th-graders will get a first-hand look at the wide array of high-tech job opportunities waiting after college, from software engineering to social media, network administration to tech support.  This glimpse into the high-tech future comes courtesy of JA JobSpark, a hands-on career expo for Indianapolis 8th graders. 

The two-day JobSpark event will be held on September 26th and 27th this year at the Indiana State Fairgrounds; JA organizes the event with support from a coalition of business and industry leaders, educators, and public sector partners.

JobSpark gives students an up-close, hands-on look at Indianapolis companies in our fastest-growing industries – and no sector is enjoying stronger momentum or commanding more headlines than technology, especially here in Indy:

  • In the annual ‘Tech Thirty’ report released Fall 2016 by commercial real estate firm CBRE,  Indy ranked 5th among major metros for tech employment gains over the last two years (outpacing even Silicon Valley);
  • Indy is adding high-tech computer systems and data jobs at twice the rate of other big cities, based on a 2016 Brookings Institution analysis;
  • In 2016, Forbes has called Indy an emerging “tech hub on the move,” while a 2017 New York Times feature noted that “the city has steadily, if quietly, become a center for new technology, particularly software.”
  • The industry keeps growing – technology leads the way in recent corporate investment and job commitments, according to the Indy Partnership, with homegrown start-ups ramping up with help from co-working and accelerator facilities like DeveloperTown and Launch Fishers;
  • Looking beyond Central Indiana, 22 Indiana tech companies made the 2017 Inc. 5000 ‘Fastest Growing’ list;
  • All told, the technology sector in Indiana contributes $14 billion in gross regional product annually.

This growth is predicated on talent – the ability of employers to recruit people with specialized skills.  Tech companies that invest in Indianapolis want confidence in a strong pipeline of young workers.

Earlier this summer, digital cloud giant Salesforce made Indianapolis just the fourth city in the world – after San Francisco, London and New York – to have a Salesforce Tower.  But along with its eye-catching plans to grow its local workforce by 800, the company added another piece of good news that’s also a smart investment in the future – adding 500 local apprentices through its FutureForce initiative by 2020.  Salesforce, like all progressive, growing businesses, makes people a priority and plans ahead to attract up-and-coming talent.

That’s also why the Indy Chamber is a proud partner in JA JobSpark: It’s critically important that today’s 8th-graders – most of whom will be in the workforce in less than a decade – start thinking about college and career success.  These are the kind of programs that make all the efforts of educators and policymakers pay off, by capturing the imaginations of students beyond the classroom.

JA expects roughly 3,000 volunteers to be on hand coordinating the event on September 26th and 27th, with hundreds of employers – including many of our leading technology companies – connecting with more than 7,000 students from approximately 50 schools across Central Indiana. 

There’s still time to join us and the rest of the business community in supporting this important endeavor.  Check out for more details and opportunities to get engaged.  JobSpark supports the future of economic development in metro Indy, and shows our young neighbors that when it comes to career ambitions, the sky – or the digital cloud – is the limit.

  • Perspectives

    • Jeff Rea serves as CEO and president of the South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce.

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