When work life in America careened to a sudden halt mid-March because of the pandemic — before accelerating again in new and different ways — CompTIA Tech Career Academy was among thousands of enterprises that quickly transitioned to support social distancing among employees and its students.
Looking back at that time now and assessing lessons learned, Sue Wallace, vice president of student and career services for CompTIA Tech, says she knows one thing for certain: The need for entry-level tech professionals is greater than ever.
“We had a shortage of entry-level tech professionals before the pandemic, and while that has resulted in some slowdown in hiring, we are hearing from many more tech companies that they definitely are experiencing a strain on their existing resources,” she said.
One executive at a managed service provider told Wallace that its help desk call volume has increased 40 to 50 percent during the pandemic, driven by clients as well as its own off-site employees who needed assistance to work successfully remotely.
In data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics from April showing the effect of the pandemic on employment, the information technology industry was among the handful that grew as compared to the month before.
And the agency reports that some 860,000-plus help desk jobs remain unfilled, and predicts that the need for computer support specialists will grow 10 percent, faster than the average for all occupations.
“The pandemic certainly put a spotlight on the need for more entry-level tech professionals,” Wallace said.
Which brings us to CompTIA Tech online
It is the mission of CompTIA Tech to help people launch and grow careers in information technology. As a nonprofit organization, the academy trains and prepares adults for certification and success in IT jobs.
Prior to mid-March, CompTIA Tech classes were conducted in brick-and-mortar classrooms. With the country on high alert then about the pandemic, Wallace and other academy leaders had developed by March 12 a transition plan to move to online instruction.
By Friday, March 13, however, public school districts throughout CompTIA Tech’s service areas were closing, which had tangible ripple effects on parents who were CompTIA Tech students themselves. The plan Wallace and the leadership team developed shifted into overdrive.
“As soon as the schools started closing, we knew we had to immediately move to online, with no more in-person instruction,” Wallace said. “We told our CompTIA Tech students to go home for the weekend, that we would have more information to them before Monday, and by the way, don’t leave any books here. And almost overnight, we flipped from the classroom face-to-face version of our program to a completely online version.”
Only minor glitches here and there
Since Creating IT Futures’ CompTIA Custom Training group already supplied online training before the pandemic erupted, the transition overall for CompTIA Tech went smoothly although there were small glitches. For example, while Zoom meetings worked quite well for CompTIA Tech students in some locations, Adobe Connect worked better in others.
And CompTIA Tech had to tweak some policies. Whereas it previously had a strict policy stating students had to be in their seats by 9 a.m., students had to log into Zoom by that time instead.
The biggest challenge the academy faced was what to do when students completed classroom instruction. Under ordinary circumstances, students would visit community-based computer testing centers to take their CompTIA A+ certification exams. But those centers had closed because of the pandemic, Wallace said.
“Pearson VUE and CompTIA have been working for some time on plans for online proctoring in order to allow greater access to certification exams for CompTIA curriculum test takers,” Wallace said. “The pandemic escalated the importance of getting that done so our students could sit for their CompTIA A+ certification exams.”
CompTIA and Pearson VUE launched an online certification testing platform in April.
Another challenge brought on by the pandemic was that employers were hiring differently — whether that involved numbers or processes.
“We were helping graduates move forward with potential employers with mixed results,” she said. “For some employers, it was business as usual. Other employers said they honestly weren’t sure what they were doing, while still other employers saw significant upticks in hiring. All of that required new navigation for our career support team as well as our recent graduates.”
Recent grads hit ground running
CompTIA Tech’s most recent graduates have proven technical skills that make them ideal employees for call centers, help desks and desktop support roles in IT.
And businesses that hire them will gain dedicated and diversified employees for their entry-level openings. Among students specifically recruited for enrollment are women, people of color and military veterans.
Preston Wood was the first graduate from CompTIA Tech’s online program to get hired; he secured employment with Ulta Beauty’s IT department, which is supporting many of the corporation’s employees in working from home.
CompTIA Tech’s longtime corporate partner, TEKsystems, played an instrumental role in connecting Wood with Ulta, Wallace said.
“We are thrilled for Preston. I encourage other employers looking for motivated and engaged individuals who are people friendly, technically knowledgeable and ready to hit the ground running to contact CompTIA Tech,” Wallace said. “We can help you find the perfect matches for your entry-level tech professional roles. Just visit comptiatech.org and click on the Hire Graduates link at the top.”
A special shout out to the pandemic’s essential workers
Wallace said the pandemic also has highlighted how vitally important are the front-line employees in the country’s hospitality and retail industries — essential workers who have kept families fed and supplied during extremely trying times.
CompTIA Tech would love to recruit some of those essential workers, because the information technology industry needs their skills, she said.
“Customer service, dealing with difficult people, problem solving, looking for the win —all of these awesome transferable skills that tech companies need, especially in front-line employees,” she said. “And yes, while you need to have tech knowledge, the tech knowledge can be taught. It’s more difficult to teach those softer professional skills that make one gifted at working with the public.”
CompTIA Tech trains students who have little-to-no information technology experience and gives them both technical skills and valuable soft skills to launch new IT careers.
Essential workers — and anyone else — interested in learning more about CompTIA Tech Career Academy can visit comptiatech.org.
Businesses can support the nonprofit CompTIA Tech by hiring graduates, offering career insight to students, and even providing financial assistance so more students can enroll. To learn more, click here.