In his State of the Union address last week, President George W. Bush said, “As technology transforms the way almost every job is done, America becomes more productive and workers need new skills.” He added, “So we must respond by helping more Americans gain the skills to find good jobs in our new economy.”
This is not news for chief learning officers, who understand that learning initiatives can help drive the productivity of their organizations’ workers, in turn driving their competitiveness and success. For many organizations, the IT infrastructure is the backbone on which the organization relies for its forward momentum. And according to the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), the total number of U.S. IT workers is about 10.3 million. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that jobs in the IT field are some of the fastest-growing occupations in the United States.
According to Martin Bean, chief operating officer of New Horizons Computer Learning Centers and chairman of CompTIA’s public policy committee, many people make the mistake of thinking that the information technology industry consists of the companies providing the technology—the hardware and software—and the services to support that technology. “The point the President was trying to make is that IT touches just about every worker, so it’s a constant challenge for every industry to ensure that their workers have the skills necessary to drive their business forward,” said Bean.
So how do ensure that your IT workforce is ready to work with the information and communication systems your organization relies on?
The day after addressing the nation, President Bush reinforced his message about jobs for the 1st century at a Conversation With the President, which took place in Mesa, Ariz., at Mesa Community College. Bean moderated the panel, which included discussion of the National IT Apprenticeship System (NITAS), a program delivered jointly by CompTIA and the U.S. Dept. of Labor to provide IT workers with training and education to drive the productivity of the American workforce.
According to John A. Venator, president and CEO of CompTIA, which now has more than 19,000 members around the world, apprenticeship helps professionals enter the industry with the skill sets they need to be successful workers. “The employer knows what they studied and knows they are prepared to be productive from day one,” he said.
“It takes the best practices of apprenticeships of old and applies them to high technology in the 1st century,” said Bean. “Employers want to be able to validate job skills.” NITAS allows employers to map job roles to education requirements, and a mentor validates that the apprentice can perform those job skills.
The NITAS program strengthens connections between workforce investment and educational systems in the United States, said Neill Hopkins, vice president of workforce development and training for CompTIA, and an editorial board member for Chief Learning Officer magazine. “Research conducted by the Department of Labor and by CompTIA indicates that on-the-job training is much more effective when combined with classroom instruction than when either is delivered on its own,” he said. “The combination of structured on-the-job training delivered under the guidance of an experienced worker, and complementary related classroom instruction, ensures a worker’s employability and competency.”
Three tracks are available now for IT generalists and two levels of IT project management. All of the concentrations require a minimum number of hours spent on classroom instruction, on-the-job training, mentored skills validation and industry certification. More tracks are planned for later this year, including information assurance and security, IT enterprise management, database, Web e-commerce and network specialization.
McDonald’s was one of the first companies to pilot the NITAS program, with excellent results. (See “McDonald’s Corp.: Taking Knowledge From the Classroom to the Job Through Apprenticeship,” online at https://www.clomedia.com/content/templates/clo_nl_execbriefs_content.asp?articleid=30&zoneid=10. Based on work with registered apprenticeships across a number of industries, the Department of Labor has determined a number of benefits for organizations, according to Venator.
“First, the structure of an apprenticeship program gives the employers a ready-made methodology to define and create a career path,” Venator said. “That’s pretty important for those mission-critical skills.” He added that many companies spend substantial time and resources determining career paths and the mission-critical skills that fit into those roles. “This apprenticeship is ready-made methodology for kick-starting that career-path process within a shorter period of time, and it frankly is at a substantially lowered cost to the company.”
Apprenticeship also helps foster good development practices for supervisors and employees, Venator said. “It reduces the re-work,” he explained. “There’s fewer errors and fewer messes to clean.” In addition, it allows workers to get up-to-speed faster, helping them begin working independently sooner. “Over the long term, this enables the supervisor to become more productive,” Venator said.
Organizations can build their ability to attract and retain quality workers through apprenticeship as well, Venator said. “Good workers are more likely to stay with a company that has offered to sign off on a structured apprenticeship program in terms of specific tasks,” he explained. “The apprenticeship increases the worker’s loyalty to the employer, so you’ve got reduced turnover.”
Because the NITAS apprenticeship is based on a paid-for-performance wage scale, Venator said, wages are commensurate with the demonstrated skills and abilities of each employee. “The employer is less likely to end up overpaying, but at the same time the employee gets fair wages for their skill set at that point in time.”
Other benefits include the employer’s ability to access a verified transcript of the apprentice’s academic and certification records, key for reducing the risks associated with relying on a resume by itself. Participating companies are also able to get benchmarking data that allows them to compare their workforce against other industries and other regional benchmarks, Venator said.
“Finally, apprenticeships formalize the knowledge transfer in the organization—creates a process—which, frankly, we find will then generally be used in that company to spin off in terms of training episodes for other new employees not in the apprenticeship program,” said Venator. This helps companies ensure that knowledge and critical work processes are being shared across the organization.
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