As anyone in Silicon Valley knows, engineering jobs are in high demand, but we’re going through a serious skills shortage.

K-12 classroom technology education hasn’t kept up with the demand for qualified engineers, programmers and designers., a consortium of big tech firms including Google, Facebook and Microsoft, last month made its case for reform when it wrote a letter to various Senate and House committees calling for computer science to be added to the list of “core academic subjects.”

But if we wait for government action, the problem may merely persist. It’s up for us in the tech community to help schools begin building the engineering pipeline we all need.

Give students real world experience

Startups are a real-world business and technology laboratory that we can make available to our next star developers.

Today, many large tech outfits have college or graduate student internship programs. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak met while interning at HP.

But precious few fledgling firms welcome in high school students. That’s understandable – after all, managing an intern can come with a real cost in both time and resources.  But let’s start thinking about the long-term payback our companies could get down the line from welcoming, teaching and, perhaps even, welcoming back the next generation of developers.

What’s in it for us?

Through offering competitive, comprehensive internship programs, startups are in many ways proactively building their own talent pool.

Some of the hardest hires to make are for entry level positions. Accurately determining a young person’s drive, passion and discipline from an academic record can be challenging.

By bringing on interns – particularly high-school aged interns – startups play an active role in developing passion and teaching drive. Effectively, startups can help build the future employer pool they’ll turn to down the road.

Thirty five percent of employers’ full time entry-level hires come from internship programs. Knowing the skill set of your next hire saves time and resources on recruiting and training.

Students are ready to learn. It’s our job as companies to mentor and nurture that talent through exposure to the kinds of real-world problems computer science skills can solve.

Managing Cost

Companies interested in starting internship programs are often concerned with the time needed to educate and train young people. Efficiency is key in any successful and quickly growing startup. Running an effective internship program while keeping productivity high can feel like a challenge.

One way around this is to reframe the problem. Considering the high cost of recruitment today, anywhere up to $10,000 per employee, it makes sense to take the brief efficiency hit to train your interns – and likely your future employees well.

Another solution is to offer a shorter-term job shadow program. What if a high school student could shadow a lead developer on your team during the week of Spring Break? These students can assist employees with fundamental tasks like sorting data, while also accompanying employees to team meetings, events and lunches. But the program’s short duration will ensure employees keep their time and productivity.

At its core, any internship or shadowing opportunity needs to give students meaningful tasks while enfolding them into the company culture. Make sure to set that expectation with your employees.  Give that that young person interested in programming a seat writing in the middle of coding pit. She or he will learn from the chatter of the rest of your team.

The Payoff

Too many college students avoid picking computer science as a major because it seems too intimidating and foreign. And over 60 percent of college students majoring in STEM fields drop out or change majors, often due to a lack of prior education in the field.

Today, kids are skilled in navigating technology – but I’m not convinced they know how to actively play a part in building it.

And who better but the tech community’s leading engineers to educate and train the next generation of programmers? Let’s show what it means to write a program early in a student’s schooling, so that they can build the future, not just browse it.

Ready to get started? Programs like Startup High connect students with internships; other tech firms like Microsoft simply offer a high school internship option on its jobs page.

If the United States wants to maintain its global leadership position, it’s going to have to keep raising the bar for what its students know. We don’t need wait for government reform to make it so. We are a can-do economy that can make amazing things happen, if we choose to make a concerted effort.

Isaac Oates is CEO and founder of Justworks and a veteran of Amazon and Etsy

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