Computer Fair Stokes Students’ Marketable Job Skills


As the U.S. economy is growing, finding a job is becoming ever more competitive. Computer skills are now an assumed minimum requirement for just about every job opening.

In published references from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, "Top 50 Tools & Technologies, 2014-2024," growth potential shows that employees will be required to have computer skills to use spreadsheets, databases, PCs, word processors, and email to name a few in order to be hired or keep a job. And it still holds true as predicted by the U.S. Department of Labor that “unforeseen changes in technology, shifts in the balance of trade, or major international political upheavals could radically alter future employment for individual occupations” control the job market as published in the "The 1988-2008 Job," Spring 2000 issue of Occupational Outlook Quarterly.

As we survey the 2018 U.S. job market, there is no doubt that rapid changes in technology have become a major influence as more and more employees are expected to demonstrate computer skills. Computer technology has pervaded all segments of the business world as well as life in general. Educators in the K-12 system are challenged to not only teach the latest technologies but also encourage students to be creative and flexible so they can easily learn any emerging technologies. High school graduates who are entering the job market or going on to higher education must be prepared to cope with changes in technology.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) has been proactive in providing continuing education to teachers and administrators. PDE promotes a “train the trainer” approach so students can learn today's state-of-the-concepts while preparing themselves to embrace tomorrow's innovations. As a way to stoke student learning, PDE, Pennsylvania Intermediate Units, colleges and universities, and private businesses help sponsor the annual computer fair competitions for schools across the Commonwealth.

There are two state computer fairs, one for middle school students, grades 6 to 8, and the other for high school students, grades 9 to 12. The website for the Pennsylvania Middle School Computer Fair (www.middleschoolcomputerfair.org) explains it best: “The Pennsylvania Middle School Computer Fair is an annual event that highlights Pennsylvania middle school students' application skills and computer knowledge. Students are able to unleash their creativity, learn how to convey information more dynamically, and enhance the learning process.”

PDE invites each of the state's 29 intermediate units to help sponsor computer fairs at the regional level. The Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit (CSIU) has been the proud sponsor of the regional computer fair for schools in Columbia, Montour, Northumberland, Snyder, and Union counties for well over a decade. The CSIU encourages the 17 school districts and non-public schools within this five-county area to send students and projects to the regional middle school and high school computer fairs that will be held in March at its Conference and Learning Center, located in the Milton Industrial Park near Montandon.

First-place winners at the regional computer fairs are eligible to represent their school at the annual state computer fair. This year's state competition will be held in May at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA. Categories for middle and high school students include Animation, Computer Fair Logo, Digital Movie, Graphic Design, Programming, and Web Page Design. Each category is judged by using an official scoring rubric for both the middle and high school regional and state events. Using the same rubric helps students compete better when they are chosen at the regional fair and are being judged on the same criteria at states.

Logos winning first place in the state competition in the middle school logo design and high school computer fair logo categories are used by the state to promote the following year's computer fairs. Students who submit logo projects for the 2018 computer fairs will create logo entries for 2019.

Members of the public often ask what they can do to make these events more successful. The CSIU encourages them to volunteer as judges. The regional computer fairs, as well as the state competition, rely on people with expertise in specific computer areas to judge the student entries. Please contact the CSIU if you can help. We promise you will be impressed with the quality of the students' projects.

For more information about the computer fairs, contact your local school or visit these websites, www.pacomputerfair.org for information on the high school competition or www.middleschoolcomputerfair.org for the middle school fair.

The computer fairs help give students the confidence they need to embrace ever-changing technology. Their growing technological expertise will be key to helping them secure jobs that are rewarding and challenging.

(Bill Herald works in the CSIU Technology Group as a technology support and software quality assurance manager. He coordinates the middle school and high school regional computer fairs that are hosted annually at the CSIU. Email: bherald@csiu.org)

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