Advantage Kansas Targets High-Demand, High-Paying Jobs Employers Need — Starting with IT

Posted September 30, 2021

IT Worker

The world of work has changed significantly since most of today’s parents and educators were in high school. When most of us were students, the expected path after high school was for most young people to enter college, explore their passions and choose a career they could envision spending their life doing.

But today, given the increasing costs of higher education and our nation’s workforce shortage, we must help our young people choose career paths that not only make them happy, but highly employable — and hopefully, employable here in Kansas.

Each year, our state produces more college graduates than we can employ — which means we’re exporting thousands of young people to other states that will benefit from their productivity. Kansas has one of the top-10 outward migration rates in the country (#6 in 2020), which means more people moved out than in. And the main reason why people leave Kansas? A job. 

It’s becoming more and more important for us to help young people narrow down the endless career opportunities available and focus on in-demand fields that will not only help them become successful and financially independent, but also allow them to start well-paying careers without having to leave the state that invested in educating them.

Such a scenario is a win-win for both the student and the state.  

What’s the Advantage Kansas Coordinating Council?

Governor Laura Kelly established the Advantage Kansas Coordinating Council (AKCC) last spring under the Governor’s Council on Education to better align Kansas schools with the workforce needs of our state’s businesses and industry. This work is part of an effort to keep a larger percentage of our homegrown workforce in Kansas and to create new jobs to replace positions becoming obsolete due to technological innovations and automation.  

The Council is attacking this problem through three initiatives:

  • Jump Start Kansas — Focused on preparing K-12 students for postsecondary readiness and success
  • Talent Ready Kansas – Focused on preparing a workforce aligned with industry needs and skills
  • Opportunity Kansas — Focused on helping our state intentionally expand, attract and retain jobs

As a retired educator and the leader of Jump Start Kansas, I’m focused on helping our state produce K-12 graduates with the advanced skills they need to succeed. Our focus is on better preparing high school students for the workforce or whatever type of higher education (apprenticeship, technical school, community college or university) they need to earn credentials for employment.

We’re collaborating with the Kansas State Department of Education to bring more work-based learning opportunities to Kansas schools, and have been instrumental in advocating for the passage of the Kansas Promise Scholarship last spring, which will help cover costs for Kansas residents to pursue additional education and training for several high-demand fields including health care, advanced manufacturing and building trades, early childhood education and development, and information technology and security.

Our First Targeted Talent Pipeline: Information Technology

While our efforts focus on infusing all sectors with new talent, the Council has chosen to begin our efforts on information technology, one of the four high-demand fields covered by the Kansas Promise Scholarship. IT jobs support all other sectors of the economy — from health care to logistics to advanced manufacturing — so it made sense to start there. Our state has a desperate need to increase the number of young people training for IT fields today and in the future. Our K-12 schools and institutions of higher learning are not producing enough IT graduates today to fill our current needs, and those needs are only going to grow as our dependence on automation, artificial intelligence and other new technologies increases. If Kansas businesses and industries are going to compete, we’ll need significantly more people with IT skills that can support their work. 

IT is a field that is constantly evolving and changing. Having a good background in IT skills will provide young people with lifelong opportunities in every community in the state, and will help us grow the Kansas economy, add new jobs in every business and industry, and build more prosperity for all Kansans. Whether that means pursuing training in programming, data analytics, cybersecurity, software development, robotics, networking and even computer repair and training, Kansas must guide more young people into these well-paying careers — some which can be entered with just a year or two of training.  

How Can Parents Promote High-Demand Careers in IT?

At the K-12 level, parents and educators must do more than just introduce kids to computers as a tool, and instead help them better understand why and how they work. We must encourage all children to learn keyboarding and basic programming languages; take advanced math classes starting in the middle grades; build strong problem-solving, computer maintenance and repair skills; and explore career possibilities related to technology. We need to pique more students’ interest in IT at an early age and get them to see computers as more than a toy or tool, but a high-demand way to make a living.

Here are a few ways parents and educators can help:

  • In elementary school, you can find a wide range of books, movies and games to introduce kids to careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. As a family, there are many activities you can do at home to explore the possibilities.   
  • During middle school, job shadowing and field trips can help kids see firsthand the jobs available in this industry and what kind of training is required.
  • In high school, work-based learning experiences, internships and apprenticeships will provide hands-on learning opportunities to support classroom work and allow young people to gain real-world skills that can open doors to employment. Many schools offer certifications through their Career and Technical Education departments to help students gain IT credentials or college credits in IT coursework while still in high school.

After high school, there are many ways young people can launch IT careers – and many are low-cost:  

  • Apprenticeship programs provide on-the-job training and paid work while a young person learns from an employer. The Kansas Department of Commerce has recently received a grant to develop more apprenticeship programs. Learn more.
  • Boot camps, short-term courses and certificate programs can help people learn essential skills and credentials to help them land entry-level jobs. These are readily available through tech and community colleges, universities and private institutions. Search for options in Kansas.
  • Associate degree programs through community and technical colleges can prepare students to secure jobs that require a degree or more formal education. Search for options in Kansas.
  • Bachelor’s degrees and master’s programs can provide graduates with more of the theory and application of skills for research, innovation and management in IT fields. Search for options in Kansas

Need a New Career? Consider the Possibilities for Yourself

Lastly, for decades our state hasn’t produced the IT professionals we need — which means there are probably well-paying, unfilled technology jobs available in your community right now. If you are considering switching careers, re-entering the workforce or going back to school, I encourage you to check out opportunities in IT fields. Many employers will train you on-the-job or reimburse your tuition costs for successful completion of IT training courses.

The Kansas Promise Scholarship can also apply to adults over the ages of 21 who are Kansas residents. If you’re willing to go back to school to start an IT career, your tuition, books and fees might be covered. No one is too old to retool and start a new career — so please consider the benefits of a high-demand, well-paying industry that’s in desperate need of skilled employees.

When the goals of the Advantage Kansas Coordinating Council are met, Kansans will have achieved the highest educated and skilled workforce in the Midwest. We will be producing employees ready for rewarding employment in industry, and we will be retaining talent close to our homes and loved ones. As a state, we’ll all benefit from the growth of our economy, which should mean lower taxes, higher wages and expanded opportunities for all. I look forward to seeing the outcomes of our Council’s work in the years to come.

Shelly Kiblinger

Shelly Kiblinger is a retired K-12 superintendent.  She is a life-long Kansan, who earned her doctorate in Educational Administration from Kansas State University.  Dr. Kiblinger was appointed by the governor as a member of the Kansas Board of Regents, Co-Chair of the Advantage Kansas Coordinating Council (AKCC), and she chairs Jump Start, a sub-committee of AKCC focused on preparing K-12 students for a successful transition to post-secondary education.