New Designs for School
New Designs for School

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Tech companies are desperate to grow their workforce and thoughtfully designed high school internships can help young people get past the significant barriers to entry into the tech world.

Every year more than 6,000 young people in Albuquerque can’t find a job. That’s despite a business environment where virtually all industry sectors are clamoring for qualified entry-level employees. Extrapolated to a national level, that will translate into 12 million jobs going unfilled in the next decade.

But Future Focused Education (FFE) is proposing something radical to close this gap. Instead of hiring college interns—start with high schoolers.

Recently FFE gathered 16 local technology companies into one room and asked them: “What if you hired a high school intern?” At first they were skeptical. Could a high schooler handle the tech world?

This is especially important, given that people don’t end up in this field by accident, women and minorities even less so. Having a hand in changing that is empowering.

Melani Alonso, a current FFE intern and student at Health Leadership High School in Albuquerque, stood and shared her story. Her interest in tech was piqued by a middle school robotics program. Now she’s interning with a local embedded system firm, Next State Systems. Her daily life includes balancing her internship responsibilities while supporting her disabled mother, attending evening school, and holding down a full-time job at a fast food restaurant. At Next State Systems she’s learning the programming language Python and process management skills while designing a remote front-door sensor. Her internship experience has opened her eyes to a future beyond her current job in fast food. Melani said, “In the beginning I thought I wasn’t good enough but that changed after working with my mentor, Brian.”

What does it take to facilitate an intern’s entry into the tech world? Melani’s mentor Brian Henderson has been wrestling with precisely this question. Melani surprised him with her talent and adaptability, but equally important, mentoring her taught him about his own craft. “I’ve spent so much time surrounded by people who are highly trained and who think like me. Having an intern has challenged me to examine how to represent what I do in different ways,” he said. Engaging a young person in his tech world helped him feel proactive in shaping future possibilities. “This is especially important, given that people don’t end up in this field by accident, women and minorities even less so. Having a hand in changing that is empowering.”

How High School Internships Work

Here’s how the model is unique: FFE works with local companies to identify the skills employers need but struggle to find in new hires. FFE designs paid internship positions suggested by industry professionals, simultaneously working with the Leadership Schools Network to select, place, and support interns.

Young adults then graduate from high school having successfully completed two or more paid internships where they gained critical work experience. Then students are ready to pursue a meaningful career pathway and contribute to our local economy. Albuquerque becomes a healthier and more prosperous city.

Why High School Internships Are Important

It’s no secret that there are significant barriers to entry into the tech world, yet tech companies express a desperate need to grow their workforce. One participant at the convening of local tech employers named the tech industry’s nature as an especially strong fit for a population that has struggled with traditional notions of school, explaining, “This work is less about scores anyway and more about passion.”

By the end of the day, the entire group echoed the sentiments of one participant who offered: “I wish had internship opportunities like the ones we’re creating when I was coming up in high school—it would’ve made such a difference in my path.”

The process of integrating high schoolers into IT work settings will take a targeted effort sustained over time. On behalf of the young people and employers FFE serves, we are pleased to have been the impetus for re-thinking high school career readiness, and we look forward to continuing to support other businesses to make more opportunities available.

FFE convening of tech industry employers

The FFE Tech Convening participants included Fuse Makerspace, Oracle Academy, RS21, NM Department of Workforce Solutions, Ingenuity Software Labs, Design Plus Architects, Lavu, Siarza Social Digital, 11 Online, Explora, Next State Systems, CSTi, Adelante, Dekker Parish Sabatini, ANM. Michael Soguero of Eagle Rock facilitated the event. (Courtesy of Mike May)

The Future of High School Student Internships Is Virtual: The landscape of high school internships is changing post-COVID. Learn about virtual internships to prepare students for remote workplaces.

Photo at top courtesy of Mike May: Health Leadership High School student and Future Focused Education intern Melani Alonso with her mentor Brian Henderson of Next State Systems.

This article originally appeared on the Future Focused Education website.

Mike May

Director of Workforce Learning, Future Focused Education

As the director of workforce learning for Future Focused Education, Mike May focuses on creating an ecosystem in Albuquerque in which local youth can access pathways to employment and industry training. Drawing on his prior domestic and international experience as a teacher and director/principal of Amy Biehl High School in Albuquerque and the Ecole d’Humanité in Switzerland, Mike collaborates with schools and local employers to create paid internships for high school students.