CompTIA Creating Futures With Scholarship Rewards Program

Professional techies actively looking for positions in the job market, or those who are passively scouting for better opportunities, may wonder when they’ll get a break.

Imagine asking yourself that same question when you come from an underutilized employment group such as military veterans, disabled workers or at-risk youth. The Computer Technology Industry Association’s (CompTIA) Educational Foundation — which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary — acts as a helping hand for would-be techies from those groups.

In addition to large-sum cash donations, the foundation accepts in-kind donations. For example, institutions with in-house IT training programs may have seats open when classes aren’t full and may choose to donate these seats to foundation participants, exposing them to training that can lead to certifications.

John Venator, president and CEO of the foundation, said CompTIA’s Creating Futures program initially began by giving merit reward scholarships, but over the years, the organization has evolved to allow schools and training organizations to nominate exceptional students to receive scholarship awards.

“They’ve been fairly nominal stipends, but the organizations agree to publicly present them. And we’ve had some wonderful feedback from parents and school administrators on how these scholarship rewards have not only motivated the recipients to think more positively about themselves, careers and being self sufficient, they’ve also used it to motivate others who are not necessarily receiving scholarships but who attend their institutions,” he said.

Venator said the foundation takes a proactive role in creating futures by executing pilot demonstration projects that act as success stories the organization can point to when looking for donations.

“We know we can’t boil the ocean: We’re not a $500 million Gates Foundation. We’re fairly modest, but we have done some things,” Venator explained. “In Florida, we did a program with Hewlett-Packard with returning military veterans, and we did a program in Ireland with a population that was older adults with some fairly severe disabilities.

“My first reaction [to the Ireland project] was, ‘Are we setting ourselves up for failure here?’ Ideally, we want to point to our projects as successes so we can get government and other private organizations to emulate them, but a very intense training methodology developed.”

Part of that methodology involves company internships. Venator said a hotel that participated in one of the pilot programs hired three of its graduates. “And we have a videotape from the general manager saying he was pleased with the three people he hired He held them to the same standards as the rest of his staff, and they were meeting or exceeding those standards.”

Many Creating Futures participants are older: people in their early to mid-30s who have not had any career experience. Venator said participants often are people society had written off, or the people have written themselves off and come to believe they are useless and have no value.

“They’ve heard they were detrimental to their families, that they were going to be wards of the state their whole lives,” he explained. “They had no confidence. They had no self-esteem. One young lady who was very much an introvert but now has skills, is functioning and has the potential to be self-supporting, said, ‘I have a job.” There was a very long dramatic pause, and then [she added], “And they’re paying me money.’ This was a whole new concept because she never thought she’d be anything other than a financial drain on her family.”

Venator said many of the at-risk inner-city youth in an Ohio program found a reason to finish and continue their technology training, and there was a noticeable impact on their demeanor and outlook not only in the IT classes, but when applying themselves to education in general. Many, he said, become de-facto role models.

Training provided in the Creating Futures program spans the gamut of participants’ experience. Sometimes it begins with basic computer literacy. In other cases, recipients can begin training immediately to gain employable IT skills and CompTIA certifications.

“HR directors say the certifications are reliable predictors of an employee’s success,” Venator said. “For instance, the program with the returning military veterans was a mix of A+ and Network+ training, and at the end they sat for the certification exam. Every place in the world everybody says they cannot get enough people with the skills they need to solve, service and support computer solutions. Our technical certifications validate the learning experience. All the kids in that Ohio program [and] the veterans trained with the Hewlett-Packard money, they all got jobs, and in some cases had several employers offering them positions.

“We decided to do a scholarship rewards program with people that are already enrolled in IT training to basically stimulate and motivate them to not only complete those programs but also to consider further training and certification and look at IT as a career, not just as a job.”

– Kellye Whitney, kwhitney@certmag.com

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