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High School: New Recruitment and Retention Battleground for the Best and the Brightest

Joetta L. Wagner

Joetta L. Wagner



More companies than ever before are trying to find the best talent they can before that talent even goes to college. It’s an effort to get a leg up in an increasingly competitive recruitment and retention battlefield for many industries.

Then and Now

Once upon a time, the high school students most often recruited while they were still in high school were athletes. They were romanced with everything from scholarships to cars by competing colleges, and dazzling salaries if they were recruited by competing pro teams. But things are changing.

What may surprise some people is that there’s a pro category that has high growth and too few people to match the growth. The category is information technology. IT is the generic term applied to the management and use of computers. IT includes computer programmers, software and systems developers, database, network and systems administrators, support specialists and data and systems analysts.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, the estimated growth of the IT industry from 2016-2026 is 24%, with median salaries at $103,000+. That’s a healthy outlook. So what’s the catch? There are too few college graduates to match the need for IT professionals, especially in the entry-level category. So some companies finally hit upon a solution. They’re drafting high school students right into the pros and finding success in their employee recruiting and retention efforts.

Geeks Rule?

employee benefits

Again, once upon a time, the terms “geek” or “nerd” were used in pejorative ways. Not anymore. Anyone who can land a six-figure salary after graduating from high school deserves respect. The new wrinkle in recruitment and retention tactics – pursuing technologically-gifted high school students – deserves serious thought and consideration by human resources personnel. Can recruitment operations be reformatted to bring the high school nerds and geeks into a company? Yes. What’s a good first step? Getting creative with recruitment.

Whaddaya Want? Whaddaya Need?

One of the best ways to attract new talent is to figure out what they want and need. The same holds true for retaining the best and brightest employees. Millennials are reshaping the workforce’s ideas about balancing work time and play time, the changing perimeters of benefits packages and telecommuting versus going to a brick-and-mortar business locale. Millennials paved the way for the new kids on the block – Generation Z. Millennials are today’s leaders. Business consultancy Rainmaker Thinking, Inc. has a blog which examines important business issues. Contributor Alexandra Levit poses the question: Are You Ready for Gen Z? Gen Z, composed of people born between 1996 and 2012, are the next wave to hit the workplace. They are today’s high schoolers. One option that exists in today’s educational landscape is STEM programs. The acronym stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Access to such programs can play a role in finding talent. It’s nationally uneven in terms of the programs’ application to high school curriculums, but it does play an important role. Statistics pulled together by iD Tech, an industry leader in summer tech camps, bears this out. Here are a few observations:

  • Between 2017 and 2027, STEM jobs are projected to grow 13%
  • The average median hourly wage for STEM jobs is $38.85. The average hourly wage for non-STEM workers is $19.30.
  • Out of 100 STEM jobs, 93 have an annual salary of $87,570. The national average for non-STEM occupations is roughly half, at $45,700.

STEM Bears Excellent Fruit

If nearby schools have STEM programs, human resources and employee communications personnel can initiate a relationship with those schools. Like what?

  • Internships, which can give participants experience in the real business world.
  • Mentors who can help students sort out their abilities and their interests.
  • Branding projects, such as sponsoring a sports team. Or a non-athletic club.
  • Contests. One way to get people to think “outside of the box” is to erase the box.

Look at the top five companies to work for, in ascending order, as outlined by USA Today:

  • Salesforce
  • LinkedIn
  • Google
  • Facebook
  • Bain & Company

Only one company on this list isn’t a technology organization. Tech know-how isn’t going to diminish. It’s going to continue to rise.

How Will Gen-Z Affect Employee Communications and Recruitment and Retention?

So why work with the Gen-Z group? Tomorrow’s deficit of tech-literate employees can be stemmed by turning to today’s – and tomorrow’s – teen population. This is a generation that isn’t married to the idea of attending a college or university. How can you find better Gen-Z talent? Here are some excellent ideas:

  • Open House: throw open the business doors for tours
  • Career Day: give a speech at a nearby high school about the nature of your business and what sort of jobs it offers. Follow up with both teachers and kids who appear interested in what you do. The teachers know their students, and referrals are valuable.
  • Promote the company. By being active in the community, such as sponsoring events and symposiums, the audience connects your organization with positive actions. You’ve just broadened your potential talent pool.

So what’s the bottom line? Companies that look to high schools as valuable places for recruitment and retention are ahead of the game. Start now, and get well ahead of the coming talent drought.

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