Your future employee may be in your school right now. How do I know? Because I was that future employee.
Since the pandemic, we have seen a tough labor market for employers and a struggle to fill positions across many industries. School IT departments have been no exception.
Student Tech Programs
A student tech program can be a great beginning for those interested in information technology and can also give schools extra hands for repairs. A 1:1 repair program is a good place to start and can give a school that first tier of support for repair intake.
Students can begin checking in devices that need repair, creating a work order, and performing basic troubleshooting. Even if students are not performing repairs, they can at least be that first level of support. Investing time in training students to perform repairs, such as screen and keyboard replacements, can create further benefits for both students and the school. Consider these advantages:
- Empowerment and responsibility: Students take ownership of their devices and foster a sense of ownership, and students learn to troubleshoot and become more confident in their abilities.
- Hands-on learning: Students have the opportunity to gain real-world experience with technology repair and maintenance and strengthen troubleshooting skills.
- Career readiness: Students prepare for future careers in technology-related fields through exposure to practical, hands-on experiences.
- Cost savings: Student contributions reduce repair costs for the school.
- Team building: Collaboration and teamwork among students are encouraged as they work together on repair projects.
- Technology literacy: Students’ understanding of technology and digital literacy are enhanced.
- Teacher and staff support: School IT staff can focus on more difficult work orders or projects with an additional level of technical support for school staff.
Don’t Turn That Student Away
Even if you don’t have a student tech program in place, don’t turn a student away. If you have a student who shows interest in tech, find a job duty for them if they have time available in their schedule. They could be the beginning of a student tech program and possibly even become a district technician after they graduate.
This is a great opportunity for both the student and your department, as well as a chance to see a student’s passion in tech grow.
The Ethical Hacker
Over the years I have encountered several students who poked around in the district network or attempted to circumvent security in various ways. Some of those students were good kids who were just attempting to learn, and they would always alert our department if they discovered something.
Then there were the students who didn’t want to cause any harm but wanted more knowledge through non-approved testing: the Kevin Mitnicks of the world, harmless but also frustrating at times.
Then there is the worst scenario, the black hat students. The ones who attempt to steal credentials to change their grades, gain access to other students’ accounts, or show other destructive behavior once they gain access to a system. A good example is a student who gained access to one of our signage systems years ago and posted some unfavorable things about staff members.
I believe that these students can be identified early with a student tech program. They are going to be the ones who show interest in such a program, and that’s where your department can help mold them into ethical hackers. The ones who will alert you of a vulnerability they discovered or ask permission to perform testing of a system.
The student hacker relates quite a bit with me. Why? Because I was that student. I was one of those white hats who just wanted to learn, but I also informed our tech director of everything I had found.
In one such incident, in the late 1990s, the high school I attended had just installed a new security system for Windows. It was similar to Fortress security software, a competing product. Our tech director was also our business teacher. That morning he was explaining to our class the new software and how it would lock everything down so no one could get to things they were not supposed to. He seemed very proud of this new system.
While he was telling the class about the new system, I had already logged into Novel NetWare and started testing this latest and greatest security system. When he finished talking to the class I immediately raised my hand. He called on me, and I responded, “I already circumvented this new system and have full administrator privileges.” His eyes got big, and his face became red.
I showed him how I did it so he could take the appropriate actions to correct the method I used. It was fairly simple for the time; the system did not deny me access for renaming file names, so I renamed cmd.exe to notepad.exe then was able to get into the command prompt to circumvent the new security system.
That moment changed everything for me. I started doing student tech repairs almost immediately and began a working relationship with our tech director. For two years I performed computer repairs through the school’s work program a few days a week, then I interned for two years after high school. It helped launch my career in tech and gave me real-world experience that I could put on my resume.
Who doesn’t like free labor? I was happy to intern to keep gaining experience while I went to a local college. You may have students who will want to take this route as well after they graduate. It can be difficult to land even entry-level positions without some experience, and internships can help students reach that next level in their careers.
Work with their college schedules if they are attending college, and fit them in as needed. This is where you can push for on-the-job training in the hope that, if a technician position opens up, they will be ready to move into a paid position. You instantly get an employee who already knows your school district, culture, and expectations.
Just One Moment
It only takes that one moment, that one interaction with a student that can change the future for them and for your district. You could be setting them up for success and a future career, regardless of whether they stay to work for you or go on to a job in IT elsewhere. Your future employee might already be in your school right now.