National IT Apprenticeship Program Answers Call
In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President George W. Bush stressed the importance of teaching new technology skills to U.S. workers. “America’s growing economy is also a changing economy,” he said. “As technology transforms the way almost every job is done, America becomes more productive, and workers need new skills. …So we must respond by helping more Americans gain the skills to find good jobs in our new economy.”
The President extended his message on Wednesday at Mesa Community College in Arizona, where he led a discussion about 21st-century jobs. President Bush was there to discuss the National IT Apprenticeship Program (NITAS), which is jointly delivered by the U.S. Dept. of Labor and the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), the largest global trade association supporting the IT industry, with more than 19,000 members around the world.
Martin Bean, chief operating officer of New Horizons Computer Learning Centers and editorial board member for Certification Magazine, moderated the “Conversation With the President.” He said, “In the State of the Union address, the president announced a couple of important things for our industry. The first thing he spoke about was that the American economy is rapidly changing and technology is changing just about every job and every role in the U.S. economy. So what we’ve got to do is allow workers to acquire the new skills they need to go forward.” Bean added that the President followed up with a proposal to allocate $250 million in funding to support this initiative, investing in development programs at community colleges and other organizations.
The conversation in Mesa, Bean said, showcased the IT industry as a high-growth industry for the future, as well as showcasing how community colleges can work with employers and businesses at a local level to facilitate training to help workers keep pace with the IT industry.
John A. Venator, president and CEO of CompTIA, said, “President Bush, in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night and then, of course, again at our session yesterday in Mesa, Ariz., cited specifically our NITAS program as an example of how public and private partnerships can keep the United States competitive, as he called it, in the New Century by building skills and spotlighting opportunities for American technology workers.”
CompTIA puts the total number of U.S. IT workers at about 10.3 million. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), some of the fastest-growing jobs in the country are in IT-related positions. The BLS projects job growth of as much as 100 percent between 2000 and 2010 for software engineers, depending on their area of expertise. For computer support specialists, the BLS projects a 97 percent increase for the same time period. Network and computer systems administrator jobs are projected to see an 82 percent jump.
“The partnership between CompTIA and the Department of Labor is designed to address some of the key issues brought up by the President,” said Neill Hopkins, vice president of workforce development for CompTIA. “What happens to dislocated workers, and how can they get reskilled? And what is it about IT that makes it a high-growth industry? IT is the backbone to the economic powerhouse that America is, and I think the President knows that. This feeds well into what we are trying to achieve.”
The NITAS program provides tools and infrastructure to help IT workers entering the field as well as existing IT workers who need to reskill to work with newer and changing technologies. Through the program, IT workers can get up to speed more quickly through a combination of classroom training, on-the-job training and certification.
“It’s something that’s been long-needed,” said Venator. CompTIA has been working on workforce development issues for a long time, providing A+ certification initially and introducing other programs like Network+, Server+, Linux+ and Security+ along the way. “But one of the elements that the industry’s been telling us that they wanted us to further develop as an enhancement is, in effect, an apprenticeship program,” Venator said.
Bean said he spoke about the NITAS program with President Bush. “What’s wonderful is it takes the best practices of apprenticeships of old and applies them to high technology in the 21st century,” Bean said. “What’s really cool about NITAS—your CertMag readers will know that what certifications are great at doing and what associate’s degrees are great at doing is demonstrating your theoretical understanding, but employers want to be able to validate your on-the-job skills. What NITAS does is allows you to map what you’re doing on the job back to the study that you’re doing, and your mentor will validate your skills. You have the validation that you have the theoretical as well as the practical skills.”
Venator said that NITAS also helps to resolve some of the issues associated with the loss of American IT jobs to overseas workers. “I think that’s why the President’s so excited about it, because the apprenticeship program will give people the opportunity,” he said. “They’ll have the training, and they have the certification to prove they know what they studied. They’ll have some experience, and it will give people an opportunity to come in at entry-level jobs with the employer feeling very good about their employee knowledge and their ability to be productive from day one.”
Bean said that the ultimate solution for displaced workers to get back to work, and to prevent existing workers from losing their jobs, is to learn new skills. “What the President was talking about yesterday is, yes, technology is changing every job. What does that mean?” Bean said. “To keep everybody at work, we’ve got to make sure everybody has the chance to get the skills needed. Job security comes with staying ahead of the game by looking at the hot areas like security and keeping pace with those; rounding your sk