‘A Ray of Hope’ for Disadvantaged People Who Dream of a Career in IT

Don Tennant
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Survey Says IT Worker Stress Way Down, Pride Up

Here’s the conundrum: There is a shortage of IT professionals who have the skills that employers need, and at the same time, there is an abundance of bright, eager people who dream of obtaining those skills and building a career in IT, but who simply lack the wherewithal to obtain a four-year college degree to realize that dream. The solution to this problem has long seemed destined to elude us. But maybe there is an answer after all.

That’s the conclusion I drew after learning about the Creating IT Futures Foundation (CITFF), the philanthropic arm of CompTIA, the Downers Grove, Ill.-based IT trade association best known for its certification programs. Formerly called the CompTIA Educational Foundation, CITFF is headed by CEO Charles Eaton, who was brought on board in 2010 “to find a more impactful way to engage in our strategy.” That strategy, in Eaton’s words, is to “move the needle on getting people who need an opportunity into IT careers.”

The approach CITFF is taking to move the needle is to provide training to the unemployed and to groups traditionally underrepresented in the technology industry by means of the IT-Ready Network. The network is a collection of employers and non-profit implementation partners, with the latter providing:

  • Eight weeks of training to certify in CompTIA A+, a certification for desktop support, customer support, and technical support positions.
  • Training in “soft” skills, such as problem solving, conflict resolution, and customer service.
  • Technical training that covers hardware, troubleshooting, repair and maintenance, operating systems and software, networking, security and operational procedure skills.

In a recent interview, Eaton explained that the concentration on software development that typically characterizes IT programs for underrepresented communities doesn’t equip these people with the skills that give them the best chance for success.

“Everybody wants to talk about coding,” Eaton said. “But 60 percent of the IT occupations are in the infrastructure, hardware, and services side of the business—not the software development and coding side. We need to keep the attention on that.”

Eaton pointed out that there are a lot of great jobs that don’t necessarily require a college degree.

“We have to get away from the idea that everyone has to have a four-year degree,” he said. “Depending on where people are in their stage of life, that may not be attainable anymore. But we shouldn’t write those folks off. The IT occupation, and IT employers, have been as good as any in accepting people for what they know and what they can do. All we do is we open that door.”

I asked Eaton what the toughest part of his job is. Without hesitation, he said it’s raising money, because there’s a “preconceived notion” of who the students are.

“Opportunity is not distributed evenly in this country,” Eaton said. “As great as we are in many areas, that’s a major failing—that good, smart people who want to work hard don’t always have a chance. The education system is structured in such a way that it’s very hard to get accelerated learning. We’re just trying to fill a gap in there. So the hardest thing is to tell the story—that these are hard-working people who, for bad luck or sometimes bad choices along the way, end up in a situation where they need us.”

IT is “the light at the end of the tunnel” for them, Eaton said.

“The pay is good, the working conditions are good, the growth opportunities are pretty unbelievable, compared to most industries,” he said. “It’s just a ray of hope for these folks.”

A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.

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