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In Their Search for Skilled Workers,

Comments from Annie:
Remember the good old days when going to camp meant playing jacks on an old wood-plank floor, singing around a campfire, swimming and fishing in a lake? Well, those days are over for this generation. The children of the 21st century don’t have time to daydream with a blade of grass between their teeth.
And if bribes during the school year don’t fill up the AP class docket, never-you-mind because summertime means even more time to recruit kids into AP classes…Don’t miss this offer-- brought to you by—the BIG guys.
Welcome to CAMP GETTA-ONNA-DA-FASTA-TRACKA, kiddies…and get in line for your “promising careers.”

February 23, 2006; Page D1

With skilled-labor shortages looming, some employers are moving to solve the problem by winning the hearts and minds of the young -- the very young.

In an effort to tap future workers in middle school or earlier, big employers, including IBM, Texas Instruments, Exxon Mobil and Boeing, are increasing their backing of career-driven summer camps.

The camps promote kids' interest in fields ranging from engineering and aerospace to computer security. The efforts are yielding new opportunities for families, and insights into how to help kids explore promising careers.

The American Business Collaboration, a corporate partnership, will expand a middle-school science and technology camp program this summer to serve 500 kids at 10 camps in five U.S. cities and overseas, up from 300 campers at eight programs in 2005.

The program is funded by IBM, Texas Instruments and Exxon Mobil. Texas Instruments is also expanding its support of middle- and high-school science and physics camps in Dallas and Plano, Texas. Boeing is exploring possible expansion of a popular summer science camp for first- through 12th-graders near Huntington Beach, Calif. AT&T backs three science and math camps in Detroit and Chicago, and Intel sponsors three science camps in Colorado and Oregon.

"We are definitely seeing more business and industry involvement," says Janet Bray, executive director, Association for Career and Technical Education, an Alexandria, Va., educators' group. The corporate support ranges from providing funding, facilities, and equipment, to employee volunteers to work as camp instructors, staffers or year-round mentors.

At a time when leaders from President Bush on down are sounding alarms on inadequate classroom math and science education, the camps have the ability to kindle kids' interests by removing them, however briefly, from a teen culture that tends to scorn achievement in science and math.

At pharmacy camps at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver, supported by health-care provider Kaiser Permanente of Colorado, students learn how pharmacists help patients manage with asthma, diabetes and heart disease.

At a Vermont camp designed to teach campers about health-care careers, a hospital allows students to play the role of patients in mock-disaster staff-training drills, learning how professionals from doctors to helicopter-ambulance pilots do their jobs, says Stephanie Singer of the Northeastern Vermont Area Health Education Center, a nonprofit that runs the camp.

The flurry of corporate activity is driven by a practical business concern: not enough young people are training for certain careers. Degrees granted in some biological, biomedical and physical sciences fell between 1998 and 2003, the latest available data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

And while bachelor's degrees granted in mathematics and engineering have risen a bit recently, the 2003 numbers are still lower than in 1993. Women grads are still painfully scarce in such fields as electrical engineering, where they earn just 14% of degrees.

Women at Texas Instruments, where only about 25% of the work force is female, took the problem so seriously that 20 of them chipped in $5,000 each to fund programs such as girls-only summer physics camps. "We want to make sure more girls understand the future opportunities in industries like ours," says Melendy Lovett, a senior vice president and head of the initiative.

Some camps are posting impressive results. More than one-fourth of past Texas Instruments campers have gone on to take advanced-placement physics exams two years later.

At the University of Colorado's pharmacy camp, the number of students saying they were interested in becoming pharmacists rose to 89% after the camp, from 26% before. And after taking part in an IBM program called "Exite," encompassing 48 middle-school math, science and engineering camps at IBM facilities, about 80% of participants said they intended to pursue a technology-related degree.

Before Brandy Watson, Longmont, Colo., attended one of IBM's one-week technology camps as a seventh-grader four years ago, "I wasn't really that interested in math or science," she says. But she had so much fun with the camp's science activities that she enrolled in elective high-school chemistry and biology classes. Now a junior, Ms. Watson wants to become a pediatrician.

Companies are well-positioned to provide some of the hallmarks of a good camp experience, including involvement by working adults who love what they do. Students at a Bartonsville, Pa., computer-security camp got "wide-eyed" when Glenn Watt, president of Backbone Security, Stroudsburg, Pa., told how, on a previous job as an Air Force computer-security official, he helped ward off an Estonian cyber-attack on Langley Air Force Base. He says he drives home his lesson by pressing them to "take the hard courses, the engineering and the math and the physics, so you can go on to the next level."

Year-round mentors for campers reinforce lessons learned. With pink-streaked hair and body piercings, IBM software engineer Janel Barfield fit right in at the Austin, Texas, middle-school cafeteria she visited last year to see the technology camper she was mentoring. When the girl confided that a relative had laughed at her dream of becoming an astronaut, Ms. Barfield said: "Girl, he doesn't know what he's talking about.... You'd make a great astronaut."

To Ms. Barfield's delight, the girl is still committed to her dream more than a year later, "soaking up the math and science."
While most employer-sponsored camps have slots open for the public, they fill up fast. Most will begin enrollment in the next few weeks, often through schools. To tap opportunities, watch for camp postings or ads, or contact a guidance counselor.



— Sue Shellenbarger




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