City high schools should teach students to code computers, business leaders said Thursday.

“We need to inject programming and computer science into the core curriculum at the earliest age possible,” said Jon Brod, a former NBA executive now piloting start-ups.

Brod, currently heading up an instant messaging app startup called Confide, said businesses have a desperate demand for more techies.

“Engineers and designers. I’ll hire four of them today if you can find them for me,” he told a crowd of business people and city politicos at the Crain’s Future Conference in Manhattan.

The state comptroller estimates that there are 100,000 tech jobs in New York, and that job growth in the tech sector has outpaced the rest of the city by 400%. Mayor Bill de Blasio launched a $10 million Tech Talent Pipeline last spring, a partnership with J.P. Morgan aimed at helping CUNY students get degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, collectively called STEM. The city has three P-TECH high schools, technology-focused vocational schools run in partnership with IBM.

The executives said even non-technical jobs required an array of high-tech skills which need constant refurbishing. The argued that vocational training should be thought of not as a track to blue-collar jobs but as a way to make students employable in the high-tech age.

“When I hear vocational training I just think of earmarking particular jobs like auto mechanics,” said Jeffrey H. Barker, NYC Market President of Bank of America. He said vocational training, or Career and Technical Education, CTE, today focuses on tech and on “people” skills.
“These skills are transferable,” he said.

Schools chancellor Carmen Farina told the crowd that CTE programs are more rigorous than non-CTE programs, because students are expected to learn job skills in addition to the requisite academics. Michael Dowling, CEO of North Shore-LIJ Health System, said adding employers and real-life applications into the mix motivates students.

“The interaction between the education and the place of work should start as early as you can possibly make it,” he said. “Otherwise there’s no relevance.”

Dowling said employers had to have an educational focus in order to keep workers updated. “They will not be equipped two years from now,” he said, “irrespective of who comes in.”

But Dowling and others said basic writing skills were also lacking, along with “soft skills” like engaging with others and even attitude. “There’s kind of an automatic entitlement,” he said.

About a fifth of New York City public high school students are considered college-and-career ready upon graduation, according to the state education department. Barker said city businesses have an obligation to offer vocational training to local students, as BoA does with summer programs.

Barker said he meets the students on their first day at work. “Some of them look chipper and look straight ahead,” he said. “Some of the them look a little schlumpy. And I give them the pep talk about what it’s like to work, to come on time, to listen to a boss, that they may undergo criticism but to learn from it.”

He said by the end of the program, they had learned to perform in the bank environment. ”They were different students, totally different,” he said. “Aggressive, passionate, well-spoken.”

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