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May 14, 2020

How IT Training Can Make the Most of Economic Stimulus Dollars

As COVID-19 economic stimulus deliberations continue, the U.S. Congress is considering devoting more than $15 billion to our nation’s workforce development system. CompTIA’s Public Advocacy group applauds the effort as an investment in getting “Americans working again” by sharpening their tech skills.


How? In a recent episode of the award-winning Technologist Talk podcast produced by Creating IT Futures, Mark Plunkett and Jason Mangold of CompTIA Custom Training elaborate ways individuals, corporations, government entities, state and national workforce boards, and non-profits across the country can optimize investments in tech training.


As Mangold tells Technologist Talk host and CompTIA columnist R.C. “Bob” Dirkes, success takes more than just funding. It takes focus on specific, measurable outcomes.


Here is an edited transcript of their conversation:


Jason Mangold: There's nothing more frustrating to me [than] when I hear about a program that came out with very large amount of funding and then I ask what your outcomes were… how many people actually were employed? Or how many people went into a new job or [received a] certification? And they don't have outcomes. They may have put hundreds of thousands of dollars into a program... they say it's a sustainable program, but there's nothing that was tangible. And we see that all throughout the U.S.


I think Mark sees that globally [too] where... I'm just salivating saying, "…I could create something that we have true outcomes that make a difference and it's already ready-made."


Mark Plunkett: As Jason said, we need to understand, what are the pass rates of the certifications? How many individuals were placed into tech careers? How many individuals are still in that career or that job two years later?


So, through our programs, we're tracking all of that data, all these metrics. Because we need to be able to stand behind that. And everything we talk about [must] have an outcome. Whether an employer [is] looking to upskill and increase efficiency within [its] workforce… we measure that outcome. If a workforce board [is] using state and federal funding, [the organization needs] to have outputs in terms of really growing the population [served] and servicing the needs of local employers.


So, it's all around that data and we focus on that pretty significantly.


Jason: Part of our role, too, is to work with policymakers, work with workforce boards – those different groups of grantees – to have conversations and make sure their funds are actually being utilized the most effective way.


We have conversations with these groups. We get pools of funding, and then create customized programs that get more individuals trained. And again, the individuals that come into the program, there's no direct cost to them. That's something that's very important to us.


Obviously when we're working with employers… the employer would pay for it, and then that would help the individuals. But with the workforce programs, we make sure there's no direct cost. We're not trying to add to [issues] with loans, student loans and student debt… . We need to create alternate pathways to help people avoid that and still be able to get into the tech industry.


[Editor’s Note: Based on current performance metrics for CompTIA Custom Training instructor-led programs, 86% of students finish the training, 76% certify and 87% of those certified are placed in IT roles.]


Bob: So, Mark, you can [claim that hundreds of people] served by CompTIA's Custom Training have gained IT positions that, not only make an immediate positive impact economically on their households, but also promise career growth for the long run. Is that what you mean by outcomes?


Mark: An individual came by one of the booths [during a conference] and shared that he was from Mission, Texas, which was one of the first customized training cohorts that we delivered.


This individual went through the entire course, gained five certifications. Each certification [serves] to validate your skills [around] five to seven different job roles. So, this individual gained those certifications and flourished in his career and now leads a team from [an IT] managed services provider and stipulates that all of his [team members] have to gain CompTIA's certifications.


These are the kinds of stories that make a difference. We've helped that individual to get a foot in the door to gain a career, but also, he's still looking at innovative ways… to share that information with his team and to influence others to go down that [same] route.


Bob: And Jason, you're also teaching what technologists often call soft skills. CompTIA Custom Training isn't just teaching how to handle the functions of an IT help desk. Your instructors are teaching how to manage a career working with technology.


Jason: One of the things that we put into each of these programs is a program called PrepareU.


It's about two weeks of soft skills training that we sprinkle into the overall workforce development programs… soft skills in the tech industry. So, it's about how you actually survive in your role and stay in tech [jobs].


That's a big differentiator with our programs, and something that we've had a lot of employers come forward and say it's really helped.


Mark: That's a key theme throughout our offerings is that hands-on approach. You learn by doing. It isn't just theoretical.


You see that within our exams. The certifications have performance-based items where individuals [must] simulate an environment and perform tasks… so they can go into a job and actually deliver the function needed.


We attend a lot of different conferences and workforce meetings, and we hear that continually from employers. They're looking for the aptitude within an individual, the desire, the soft skills element… The technical side is absolutely needed to do the job, but it's really important that we focus on [an individual’s] soft skills to build them up to be what they need to be.


Technologist Talk is an award-winning podcast produced by Creating IT Futures, CompTIA’s tech workforce charity, where we talk to business leaders, workforce professionals and talent developers about shaping the careers of today’s and tomorrow’s technology workers.


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