Research shows that South Carolina will experience a shortfall in tech talent in the next decade. This comes at a time when technology jobs are expected to grow significantly. According to CoursePower.org, the Midlands of South Carolina will need 3,000 IT professionals over the next decade and is on track to produce only 1,650. How do we fill this gap? Initiatives like CoursePower aim to do just that. Todd Lewis, executive director of IT-oLogy Columbia, answers our questions about the program.
Q: What is CoursePower?
A: CoursePower is a minor or certificate in Applied Computing available at nine colleges and universities statewide, including four in the Midlands – USC, Midlands Tech, Columbia College, and Benedict. The program at each school generally includes six - three credit hour courses, for a total of 18 credit hours. Of those six courses, two are foundational and required of everyone and the remaining four are on various “tracks” that allow students to specialize in a specific area. The overall purpose is to ensure students have basic foundational technology skills when they graduate and enter the workforce, regardless of major. The end result is a job candidate more technologically savvy and better prepared for today’s jobs in South Carolina.
Q: So does CoursePower offer extra-curricular courses or is the program directly related to schools?
A: The program is directly related to the schools themselves. Meaning, each school creates and delivers all curriculum comprising the minor or certificate. In addition, the curriculum, and what tracks are offered, differs by institution as available resources and subject matter expertise varies.
Q: Which schools are involved in Richland and Lexington counties?
A: Four schools currently offer the minor/certificate in Applied Computing in the Midlands, including USC, Midlands Tech, Benedict, and Columbia College. All have curriculum in place, are teaching classes, and are marketing the program to prospective students and parents both on campus and in the community.
Q: What type of classes do students have to take to complete a major or minor in Applied Computing? Give us some examples.
A: Every student, regardless of school, must take and pass the two foundational courses that comprise the minor/certificate. These courses are introductory in nature, such as Introduction to Computing Concepts or Introduction to Application Programming. After successfully completing the two foundational courses, students then take classes specific to a track. A variety of tracks are available at each school and include focus areas such as security, database administration, web development (front-end and back-end), GIS, project management, music, and many others.
Q: As a student, how will this program offer me a competitive advantage?
A: The bottom line is this – nearly every single job in the future will require a basic understanding of technology and basic skills, at a minimum, and the level of understanding and skill required will only increase in the future. Unfortunately, the majority of students graduating today do not have applicable technology skills. They consume technology, and a lot of it, but they do not have the skills needed by employers in the workplace. Any student with these baseline skills immediately “rises to the top” and is more marketable when interviewing. We hear this all the time from employers from all over South Carolina and the country in general on a very consistent basis.
Q: How has been the response of the community to CoursePower?
A: The response from the community has overall been very good. We’ve got work still to do but we’ve come a long way in a short period of time. To date thousands of students have taken one or both of the foundational courses at schools in the Midlands and throughout the state and we’ve seen the number of students outright declaring the minor increase by approximately 100% year-over-year. In addition, we are seeing enrollment in technology related majors increase significantly as well. While we can’t take all the credit, we are exposing students to technology for the first time that never would have otherwise given technology a chance, and many are switching majors and choosing the technology field. This is a secondary benefit of the program but one we thought would occur. It’s a positive development and one that will benefit the state for many years in the future.
Q: What is most rewarding thing about having a career in technology for you?
A: The most rewarding thing would have to be the endless possibilities. In the grand, long-term view of things we’re still in the very early stages of technology. As a result, the opportunity to contribute and have an impact is extremely high. In addition, technology is the least regulated area of the economy, so we’re seeing incredible innovation and creativity because of it. Every day is full of possibility and hope.
Q: What is the best advice you can give to someone looking for a career in technology?
A: Get applicable skills, and do whatever it takes to get them, now! I repeat this often but it is so true. Technology skills and understanding will help you regardless of the industry you happen to work in, or plan to work in, and will result in more opportunities, higher pay, and more leverage. I advise everyone to seek out opportunities like the Minor in Applied Computing, workshops like the ones offered by IT-oLogy, or the many other resources now available like Iron Yard, etc. But whatever you do, do it as soon as possible.