Why Apple’s certification for Jump Start is big tech news for Louisiana – Shreveport Times
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(Henrietta Wildsmith/The Times)
This op-ed column reflects the opinions of its author, Keith Hanson.
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Recently, I and several others from Shreveport and Baton Rouge presented Apple’s App Development with Swift certification to the Louisiana Industry-Based Certification Council, and later to the Workforce Investment Council.
These two organizations control which in-demand industry-based certifications give points to high schools that graduate students through the Jump Start program.
We received letters of support from the technology industry across Louisiana stating that this was an in-demand field, that career paths are available now for skilled individuals, and that those careers have the potential for much higher than median wage salaries.
What is Jump Start?
Jump Start is Louisiana’s innovative career and technical education program.
That means students have a choice to pursue:
Purely academic study in high school, which is what many who have already graduated high school understand.
A blended selection of career-technical and academic courses, where they use school time to learn in-demand vocational certifications. Think “shop class” but with almost 50 career fields that go beyond woodworking to medicine, cyber technology and more.
Gayle Flowers, vice chancellor for economic and workforce development at Bossier Parish Community College, explains it this way:
“Jump Start pathways enable high school students to begin developing marketable skills and industry credentials through rigorous, real life courses and work experiences mapped to labor market opportunities.”
Because of Jump Start, schools receive equivalent school points in state school performance evaluations when preparing students for careers in high-demand job sectors as they do for preparing students for university admission.
Software development certifications in Jump Start
Our leadership at Ruby Shore has long believed that what we do is often not the same as what computer science graduates learn in college. That’s not to say that CS degrees aren’t still the de facto standard for most organizations, or that there aren’t just as many opportunities for the mind-bending stuff computer science grads learn.
But what a firm like Ruby Shore needs are skilled craftsmen who are ready to solve real problems for real customers in real business environments with the current best practices of private industry. And, as an employer, we care less about how a student gains these skills than that they have them and can demonstrate them.
Business application programmers are more like the digital plumbers and electricians of today, whereas computer scientists are more like an architect or engineer. The majority of application programming jobs available today are less theoretical and need more of the practical application of programming tools.
Like traditional tradesmen, application programming can be lucrative and can enable individuals to work for a traditional firm, or to branch out on their own. App Development with Swift provides students with just these sorts of digital trade skills.
To say that Ruby Shore’s leadership is excited about these certifications is an understatement.
Now, instead of having only a single real source (college graduates), we can hire students straight out of high school all across our state and offer them on-the-job training because they’ve already learned the most modern skills.
But this is also a boon for college-bound students, preparing them with foundational programming skills and specific language training. Tech employers, public schools and colleges across our state should be rejoicing as well.
One of our apprentices at Ruby Shore is enrolled at BPCC after getting training at the Bossier Parish School for Technology and Innovative Learning while in high school. She walked in with the skills we needed, and the flexibility of our apprenticeship program allows her to work and go to college at the same time.
On top of the benefits to private industry of being able to hire sooner, courses like this and the Jump Start program can better prepare students to succeed in college.
The Apple “Everyone Can Code” initiative
It is no secret that Apple has one of the highest earning app stores available, and most who are looking to get into app development are looking to work in Apple’s iOS ecosystem for that reason. Apple has always had a strong partnership in education, so it is also no surprise that they created the “Everyone Can Code” initiative.
Apple launched the “Everyone Can Code” platform in late 2016. Since then, it has been adopted across the globe by schools working with kindergarten students to high schoolers, community colleges and even four-year universities.
This curriculum, freely available to anyone (learn more here, teachers) with an Apple iPad or laptop, allows teachers and students to easily learn one of the best entry-level programming languages currently available: Swift.
One reason I personally became an advocate of this certification is that it contains the most complete curriculum for new programmers. It can take someone who has never written a line of code all the way through creating a real app that is ready for the app store.
The curriculum is available not just for high school, but also middle school and elementary, including kindergarten. It is the only certified High School course that has a pipeline in place for every grade level and experience level below it.
What is Swift?
Swift has taken the mobile app development world by storm, quickly becoming the language of choice for most mobile app developers.
It replaced the original programming language, called Objective-C, with a much easier to learn language that looked and felt modern.
“Swift was a very welcome change to the ecosystem,” says Nicholas Phillips, Ruby Shore’s chief technology officer. “It … is an easier language to train newcomers on. To me, that means higher quality apps that ship faster. I’m very excited about its future.”
What does this mean for Louisiana’s technology employers?
If you’re in the business of making mobile apps for customers like we are, then the benefit is obvious – a huge talent pool to choose from each year. It’s why Ruby Shore became a leading proponent of approving this certification.
But even if you’re not in the business of making apps, your business may have problems that mobile apps can solve. This certification means there will be more skilled high school and college graduates looking for their first jobs, ready to build a mobile app tailored for your business.
Furthermore, app development is a skill that is useful across the globe. If Louisiana schools begin pushing this curriculum, then we could become a major supplier of diverse talent that much of our nation is struggling to create.
App development can be done anywhere there are computer and internet connection. If our students can get these skills here at home, it is more likely that they will end up creating a more robust workforce, staying in our state and importing that work. The larger the talent pool we build here, the more attractive we become for employees to live and for employers to set up offices here or hire our citizens through telecommuting.
“This kind of certification provides students with not just a foundation in programming, not just a marketable skill, but in today’s economy, it provides the possibility to become a part or even full-time entrepreneur,” says Timothy Magner, president of the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce. “The world of work is changing, and helping our students earn world class, cutting edge skills can help them contribute to growing Louisiana’s economy.”
What does this mean for schools?
Since this curriculum and certificate create points for our schools that can raise accountability scores, they should be incentivized to begin training and promoting this curriculum throughout our high schools under Jump start.
Prior to this certification being approved, a school would have to provide this training as a club or non-credit course, which meant an individual teacher would be required to stay after school and only kids with means and transportation could participate.
This Jump Start certification allows kids in the classroom to have that same access and awareness, to gain employable skills prior to graduation, and to contribute to a school’s accountability scores (school grade letter).
In other words, it can bring this opportunity and awareness to far, far more students than ever before.
Kasie Mainero, principal of University Elementary, explains:
“Our elementary school has a strong STEM focus, and it is exciting to see the connection translate between what we are trying to do with coding in our elementary schools to high schools and careers.
“We have had coding clubs for two years now and teach coding daily. We had a summer program where our kids were coding while playing their favorite game, Minecraft. They were using critical thinking skills, creativity and collaboration to get through the challenges. With programs like Jump Start, they will be prepared to be successful in the workplace.”
Shreveport’s future is bright
Overwhelming support for this certification came out of North Louisiana, though our initial application was only conditionally approved because the board wanted to see support from all over the state. This was easily achieved when technology businesses around the state became aware of the opportunity for the collective tech industry in Louisiana.
But more than that, we have an incoming mayor who is focused on technology improving our lives. We have a school system and innovative leadership in our schools leading the charge. And our private technology sector here overwhelmingly support efforts to get more skills into youths’ hands sooner.
“Shreveport is fertile ground to become the next big tech hub,” Mayor Adrian Perkins says. “It’s history with the founding of companies like Softdisk, affordable high-quality engineers and the hiring of the city’s first chief technology officer focused on smart city initiatives shows the tech world it is the place to be.”
Whether our high school students are college bound or employer focused after graduation, we must equip our youth with modern skills like app development to give them more opportunities while making our state and our city much more attractive to prospective employers and startups.
Keith Hanson is the new chief technology officer for the City of Shreveport, subject to city council confirmation later this month. He also is the former president of Ruby Shore Software.
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