With the U.S. unemployment rate stubbornly stuck at 9.1 percent and 14 million people looking for work - that's just those who haven't given up hope of finding a job - trade association and certification provider CompTIA advocates IT as a good career option in these times. Even with fluctuations in the economy, IT-related positions continue to grow even though the overall job market remains stagnant.
CompTIA's right in the middle of the training trends. It's putting together a certification in cloud computing due out soon and on Monday announced it is putting together programs and resources on enterprise mobility management.
I recently spoke with Gretchen Koch, director of workforce development programs at CompTIA, about encouraging unemployed people to get into tech - even as some in the industry would not recommend it as a career for their children. She explained that it's a field that people can get into without having to get a college degree:
Certainly not everyone can be a computer technician. It takes some aptitude, problem-solving, being able to analyze what the problem is and iterate through the process of getting to a solution, whether you're on a help desk or you have a piece of equipment in front of you in a back room that you're trying to fix. They have to have a certain aptitude, they have to have a certain reading level that will get them the credentials and skill set that they need to take a course, to get those kinds of jobs. It's not for everybody.
But if you have those things and either by self-study or by taking a course at a community college or a commercial training provider or a combination of those - that's the best route to go. Does it need to be part of a degree program? Not necessarily. A lot of people can go get our A+ credential, that one credential and start with that. They can start making money right away, a decent salary, as a PC technician, then have money to advance into other areas of IT, if that's something they would like to do.
CompTIA's website states that the average salary for a person with the A+ certification is $50,364, though analysts Foote Partners reported entry-level certifications among those taking a hit in salary in the second quarter. In light of the trend for companies to outsource or automate entry-level tech work, I asked, how can people start at the bottom if companies are doing that? Answered Koch:
When you say outsourcing, do you mean offshoring or hiring another company to do that work? Outsourcing isn't necessarily a bad thing, because somebody's got to fill that spot at the company doing that work. On any given day, there are 450,000 open IT jobs and many of those are entry-level help desk jobs, technician jobs, and that's because there's just an ongoing explosion of IT equipment.
When I used to work for a large hardware manufacturer, we used to say that you could solve a technical problem about 80 percent of the time over the phone, but the remaining 20 percent of the time needed a human being to intervene, to actually be there with the customer or have the equipment right there to fix it. So if you take that 20 percent and multiply it by the factor of the number of pieces of equipment out there, there will always be the need for human bodies to be right there acting as technicians. There's no shortage of jobs for entry-level technicians, network administrators, security administrators at the entry level - huge growth in that area. There's a brand new area in health IT technicians - that's just exploding.
Then if you get into the mid-level, security is just exploding, particularly with the cloud. Project management is always a high-growth area, with this transition to electronic health records. There are lots and lots of growth opportunities in IT.
She explained to me that a common career path is to gain the basic A+ certification, most commonly through a community college, then if they're interested in networking, the Network+ cert, then move into the Cisco path. Or if they might choose the Microsoft administration path, but depending on the person's interests, there are myriad routes to take.
But getting a couple of certifications doesn't necessarily make a person employable - CompTIA advocates internships as the best way to gain experience and get a foot in the door. She said many community colleges work hard to help students land internships and it's one of things major companies are being asked to commit to provide to veterans as part of the Troops to Tech Careers program. I'll write more about that program tomorrow.