AITES Prepares Young Women for IT Careers

An article in Staunton Virginia’s Daily News Leader highlights the accomplishments from the first year of the Appalachian Information Technology Extension Service (AITES). The AITES works to promote young women’s interest in jobs requiring information technology skills. The overarching goal is to develop community capacity through a sustainable program of change in Central Appalachia.

AITES is a comprehensive, research-based program of training and consulting services that links efforts in workforce development, educational outreach, and economic development. It uses a train-the-trainer model and targets those community groups with whom girls rely upon for support, such as middle and high school counselors and teachers, Family and Consumer Science agents, and 4-H Cooperative Extension agents. In the first year, 365 individuals were impacted by the project.

According to the AITES website,

Since 1986, women in the IT workforce have dropped from 40% to 14%. Studies show that even when young girls show an aptitude for IT jobs and careers they usually disregard it as an option and tend to doubt the extent of their IT talents and skills. Lack of encouragement from influential adults or ‘stokers,’ preconceived notions, attitudes and stereotypes regarding IT are some of the most difficult barriers for girls to overcome when interested in pursuing an IT job. Gender stereotypes greatly impact girls’ job choices within their community. These trends, which show a national talent shortage of IT-enabled workers in the U.S., occur simultaneously with the creation of public policies meant to implement domestic in-sourcing strategies and the relocation of IT-based companies into rural areas to develop workforce capabilities. This convergence of needs and policies designed to promote economic development creates the ideal context to implement AITES.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the AITES is a five-year project targeting Central Appalachia. Young women in Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee are currently being served, and in year 3 the project will expand into West Virginia and North Carolina.

Peggy Meszaros, director of Virginia Tech’s Center for Technology Impacts on Children, Youth and Families and one of the leaders of the project, says in a recent press release, “This work continues to gain importance in building economic development, workforce development, and human development in Appalachia and females entering the information technology job pipeline.”