Growing IT workers

Some think the solution to Wisconsin’s IT (information technology) worker shortage is to go outside of the state to hire qualified staff.

However, some organizations have taken a different approach and have decided that the best solution is not to depend on off-shoring, but to develop a local pipeline of IT talent.

“This is a nationwide issue,” said Robert Horton, coordinator of the management computer systems program at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. “The numbers for Wisconsin are pretty similar; the enrollment in IT degree programs has been a roller coaster for the past 20 years or so.”

Horton says many parents and school guidance counselors have discouraged students from pursuing IT degrees in recent years.

“Kids have been told not to get into IT careers,” he said. “Most people are led to believe a career in IT means many solitary hours behind a desk at the computer.”

The decline in enrollment and the problem many companies are having finding IT workers motivated Horton and others to establish the UW-Whitewater I-Fair.

“We started this because companies came to us and said they were having trouble and that we needed to start convincing and informing students about careers in IT,” Horton said.

The I-Fair is set up like a trade fair, according to Horton. Companies host booths designed to get students excited about IT careers.

“These companies have put thousands of dollars into staffing and creating these booths to interest students that they still won’t see in their industry for eight or nine years. It’s not about promoting the company at all,” Horton said. “It’s really an issue that’s important to these companies, because in eight years, the situation is going to be even worse if nothing is done.”

The university conducted three I-Fairs in 2007 and invited students from middle schools and high schools throughout the Milwaukee area. According to Horton, another I-fair is planned for April with Harley-Davidson Inc. in Milwaukee, and two more are planned for the fall, probably in the Madison and Racine areas.  

“We started in Milwaukee, and now we are branching out. Ideally, we would like the governor to declare an IT workforce development week, and then we could organize these kinds of things everywhere,” said Horton. 

The last I-Fair in May of 2007 featured 17 companies, including Harley-Davidson and  Sussex-based Quad/ Graphics Inc. The event also featured seven educational institutions or programs, including First Robotics and Project Lead the Way, that either set up booths or helped with donations.

About 350 Milwaukee Public School high school and middle school students attended.

For many companies, getting more young people interested in IT careers early on is crucial to their success.

“It’s not that the students coming out of the universities aren’t prepared. It’s just a lack of bodies to choose from,” said Michael Gengler, software development manager at Quad/Graphics. “As an IT shop that thrives on bringing in young, energetic IT professionals, the lack of enrollment is really the issue we are facing.”

One of the educational programs involved in the I-fair introduces a problem-based curriculum for middle school and high school students across the nation. Project Lead the Way (PLTW) began as a nonprofit organization in 1997 in New York as a response to the demand for more engineers and other engineering based professionals.

It has since expanded to more than 2,500 middle and high schools across the nation.

“It’s truly an integrated learning experience, there hasn’t really been another program before this one that focused specifically on those STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) careers,” said Thor Misko, affiliate director of PLTW in Wisconsin.

According to Misko, 83 high schools, 37 middle schools and more than 15,000 students in Wisconsin now participate in the program. Forty more schools are potentially on board for this year, he said.

“The public investment leveraged $3.2 million in private support to Wisconsin PLTW schools,” he said. “Many small and large companies, school foundations and individuals have also supported the program locally.”

The Kern Family Foundation in Waukesha played a large role in getting PLTW to take off in Wisconsin.

“The Kern Family Foundation realized we needed more integrated minds and more engineers in the state of Wisconsin,” Misko said. “They really wanted to support this program. They got the first three schools on board and it has grown from there.”

Some other private supporters of PLTW include the Bradley Foundation of Milwaukee, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, the Oconomowoc Community Foundation and Rockwell Automation Inc. of Milwaukee.

Teachers at PLTW member schools are required by contract to go through a two-week training course for each high school level course they want to teach. All five middle school modules are taught within those two weeks.

In 2004, Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) became the PLTW national affiliate for Wisconsin. MSOE has trained 381 teachers in the PLTW Summer Training Institutes, and 269 of those were Wisconsin Teachers.

Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC), headquartered in Needham, Mass., first began marketing its Pro-Engineer software overseas, but has brought the technology to the United States in the form of the DesignQuest in Schools program. According to Mark Fischer, director for the PTC Education Program in the United States, 9,500 teachers, 5,200 secondary schools, and 450 colleges and universities in the United States are now using the Pro-Engineer Software.

Pro-Engineer Schools and the Schools Advanced Editions feature some of the same software used in a many companies in the industry today. Core Consulting LLC in Whitefish Bay is a PTC educational reseller of the product.

“Employees from Core in their former lives did a lot of work with our corporate customers. They saw a need for helping the customers that they deal with to place highly qualified students,” said Fischer. “They unselfishly looked to education to help that market, and thus help the customers that they are really looking for. They have a strong interest in education, and feel that it will help the original customers in the long run.”

Business partners Jesse Daily and Matt Buerosse formed Core Consulting in 2007 and began working with PTC shortly thereafter.

“The program is really designed to focus on everybody. We want to educate teachers and students to look at what the industry is doing and learn to use this software to make the transition from school to work more seamless,” Daily said.

“The beauty of this product is that the students can, if they want, take it home to experiment and play with,” said Buerosse. “That is important when kids are learning new things.”

Though it is somewhat early to gauge the results of any of these educational efforts, Horton of UW-Whitewater said he detects a “buzz” among students who attend the I-fairs and other events like them.

“It is very heartening to those who have been involved in organizing these events. Kids are very excited about what they see and they can learn things they never even knew about before. They now know that IT is a real field and also can be a wonderful place to work.” said Horton. 

Misko is hoping that Project Lead The Way is going to help students figure out what they want to do before they go to college.

“We had a 100 percent retention rate in 2006-2007 with PLTW students,” said Misko. “They know what they are going into, and they have had that taste and know what they want to do.”

Buerosse and Daily have made

the DesignQuest in Schools program one of Core Consulting’s primary responsibilities.

“We are trying to prepare our country, more specifically our state, for in five years when the boomers retire and there is no one to fill their positions,” Daily said. “We want people to know that we will do what it takes, because we know that if we build talent now, there are going to be users in the end game that know the product. It’s our philanthropic approach to long term stability for our state and others.”


IT educational program contacts:

UW-Whitewater I-Fair
Contact: Robert Horton
(262) 472-1467

Brent Kindred
State Consultant – Technology and Engineering Education
Project Lead The Way (PLTW)
State Leader
Wisconsin Department of
Public Instruction
(608) 266-2683

Project Lead the Way
Milwaukee School of Engineering
Contact: Thor Misko-Wisconsin affiliate director
(414) 277-7255  |

DesignQuest in Schools
Core Consulting LLC- PTC Educational Reseller
Contact: Matt Buerosse, Jesse Daily
(414) 763-9444

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