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A Different Take on the Value of IT Certification

In the past year or two, I've read stories about children as young as five years old earning IT certifications, with plenty more examples of middle  or high school aged teenagers notching up some interesting credentials such as MCSA, MCSE, and CCNA. With an increasing number of kids getting certified on their way through high school, especially through the Microsoft IT Academy and the Cisco Academy, what's a hiring manager or business owner to do, when faced with a certified high school graduate on the lookout for an IT job? Good question!

Wayne Anderson, over at Certmag, recently chewed on this issue in a story entitled "Dear CertMag: Should I hire a high school student with a certification?" His answers are interesting enough to warrant clicking the preceding link, but I have to observe that like any truly good question, the answer to the aforementioned has to begin with these two words -- namely, "That depends..."

From cap and gown to an IT job?
[Source: Shutterstock 182889281 ©Sean Locke Photography]

True, kids can graduate from high school with any of the major middle-level Microsoft certs (not just the entry-level MTA, but also MCSA, MCSE, and MCSD) to their credit, and they may sport some variety of CCNA as well. But does that mean they can do they job? Here's what deciding "yea" or "nay" must depend on:

1. High school graduates may be long on technical smarts and even have a fair amount of hands-on experience with platforms and software, but what they often lack is maturity and workplace savvy. You'll want to do what you can to assess those characteristics carefully. I'd be particularly interested in any paid work experience they might also have racked up en route to graduation, either part time while in school, or full-time during summer breaks.

2. How much customer or end-user contact comes with the position? High schoolers may be personable and outgoing (a good sign) or they may be more shy and diffident (a possible point of concern). At a minimum, placing a younger person in a job that involves such contact demands some initial training; it probably also calls for ongoing mentoring to make sure your new IT employee understands, appreciates, and develops important people and communications skills.

3. How are work assignments handed out, tracked, and reported? Many new high school grads don't yet really understand the workings of the workplace. They will need to be taught how to work like a professional, for everything from punctuality and time management, dress, demeanor and behavior, workplace etiquette, reporting and communication, and so forth and so on. Companies that hire lots of teens like McDonalds actually offer classes on all of these topics, and more, because they already know that the best way to make sure that employees work out well is to tell them what you want, teach them what they need to know, and make sure they understand what's expected from them in return for a paycheck and benefits. If they want to hire teens, IT operations must be prepared to do likewise.

There's a lot more involved to making use of high-schoolers in IT than might immediately present itself to interested businesses and organizations. In the final analysis, the person with the right skills, knowledge, personality, and attitude will still be needed, but this opens up possibilities and populations hitherto unconsidered. For those who are willing to exert a little extra care and effort, tapping into this new source of IT expertise, and helping it grow up right in the field of IT, could pay handsome dividends.