Are High School Dropouts Good IT Job Candidates?

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Never mind a college degree. Should companies be willing to hire high school dropouts as long as they have an IT certification? According to an executive at one of the nation's top IT certification providers, they absolutely should.


I spoke yesterday with Terry Erdle, senior vice president of skills certification at CompTIA, who said the IT environment is going through profound change, and not just in terms of technology:

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The dynamics of IT always call for people to upgrade their skills and to recertify. What's happening now, though, is we're getting a huge glut of career changers being one, and secondarily, and perhaps even more frighteningly, a very large number of young people entering the workforce certainly without a college degree, and many, many more than in previous years without a high school education. They're dropping out, and they're entering the workforce with no discernable skills. That's one very dynamic piece of the overall market.

I asked Erdle if that means he would recommend to a hiring manager that even if a kid doesn't have a high school education, if he has a certification, he's a good candidate. His response:

It certainly means that he's got the skills to do those kinds of things, and absolutely they're a good candidate if they've gotten through [CompTIA's] A+ certification. I don't know what the demographic would be as to the number of people who have those certs, but don't have a high school degree-I still suspect that's rather low. It's a new dynamic we're dealing with over the last several years where we're seeing graduation rates drop into the 30 percent to 40 percent range in some of the largest school districts in America-that's a very new dynamic that we're trying to respond to.

According to Erdle, the health care industry in particular needs to fill 45,000 to 75,000 IT jobs. Should high school dropouts be considered for those jobs? He said:

Absolutely. There are two kinds of IT jobs. Some of them are entry level; there are many, many at the higher end. There are a lot of unfilled jobs. There are probably somewhere between 350,000 and 500,000 unfilled IT jobs in this country. A lot of those are highly skilled. ... But, of course, the population that accedes to those starts at somebody's more foundational level. What you have is a dynamic that because the kids who are entering the workforce now have a high degree of aptitude for technology; they are absolutely prime to be taught some skills. Think of it as a trade at one level. We have a new program that we launched in the last two years called Strata, which is sort of a half-step toward A+ certification. That Strata level will push you very hard at the high school level, at the vocational schools and the tech ed centers.

It's an interesting proposition, and one for which there's a strong argument on both sides. On the one hand, giving kids who don't finish high school a chance for a rewarding career in IT is a noble endeavor. On the other, we might be setting our kids up for failure if they lack a basic grounding in communications and other skills that a high school education is instrumental in providing. And if kids get the message that they can get a good job even if they don't finish high school, the dropout rate is surely likely to rise.


What's your view? If you're a hiring manager, would you consider hiring a high school dropout as long as he has an IT certification that demonstrates he has the technical skills you need?