A worldwide effort to get children interested in coding is taking place this week at schools in the Tampa-St. Pete area.
About 50 people who work at Accenture’s Tampa office are leading “Hour of Code” programs at a dozen local schools.
The initiative is designed to expose kids to computer science at an early age, said Stuart Brown, southeast managing director at Accenture, one of the largest professional services firms in the Tampa-St. Pete area.
The ultimate goal is to grow the technology workforce, Brown said. U.S. companies had about 918,000 unfilled IT jobs, according to an October report in the Wall Street Journal, but supply hasn’t kept pace, CNBC reported.
Introducing computer science to schoolchildren can go a long way toward filling that gap, Brown said.
“If you look at the tech visionaries over the last 30 years, they were exposed to science and programming at an early age,” Brown said. “A lot of kids today think programming is hard and is only for kids who go to Ivy League schools. That’s absolutely not the case. What we’ve seen and what has been proven, is that if you expose them, they will find a path within computer science that may interest them. The sooner we can get them to do that, the better.”
Accenture workers participate because they are passionate about technology and enjoy giving back to the community, Brown said.
This year, for the fifth consecutive year, Accenture (NYSE: CAN) teamed with Code.org to support Hour of Code globally. Thousands of Accenture workers worldwide pledged to teach an hour of code at events in their communities, a news release said.
Accenture provides the Accenture Intelligent Space Exploration coding tutorial, in which students discover how artificial intelligence techniques can be applied to teach a robot to explore a new planet — recognizing animals and plants, understanding a new language and conversing with inhabitants.
“It is one hour, and we introduce the program with the hope that it will spur more activities,” Brown said. “Code.org then becomes the highway for them to do other things. We point them to the site. The teachers can expand the curriculum if they want. So it gives them a taste, call it an appetizer, and hopefully they will want to find out more.”
This past summer, more than 280 teachers attended a week-long, hands-on computer science training through the Tampa Bay STEM Network, according to a report from Hillsborough County Public Schools. Hillsborough County Public Schools is a regional partner for Code.Org.
“The goal of the partnership is to establish a K-12 computer science hub for the region, offering professional learning opportunities for teachers and building a strong local community in support of digital literacy,” said Larry Plank, the director of K-12 STEM education for Hillsborough schools.
Plank also is the advisory chair for the Tampa Bay STEM Network, which serves teachers from all grade levels in seven counties, including Pinellas. Code.org has awarded a $250,000 grant to the network for professional development for teachers.
Brown wants local school boards to continue to back computer science education.
“If we’re going to change the way our economy works from a services economy to a tech economy, this has to be more than one day a year or a week a year. I think we’ve seen great positive movement from the school boards, but as a community we need to continue to push it,” Brown said. “ I think we need to challenge to our system to change the economy through technology.”
The Hour of Code initiative is one of several efforts Accenture has undertaken locally to grow the technology workforce. Earlier this year, the company brought together representatives from private companies, public agencies and government for a conversation about potential solutions to the tech skills gap.