01 May Cisco academy promotes computer skills for the IT workforce
Madison, Wis. – The notion that an IT labor shortage exists, at this point in time, is not universally accepted, but there is little doubt that at some point in the future a healthy contingent of Baby Boomers will retire and need to be replaced – in IT departments and elsewhere.
Some organizations are just beginning to react to this demographic trend, while others are still in denial. Still others were visionary enough to move even before the dotcom bust of 2000-2001 began to shrink enrollment in university computer science programs.
Cisco Systems, a global provider of computer networking equipment, is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its networking academy at Madison Area Technical College. Gov. Jim Doyle and Cisco Chairman Emeritus John Morgridge were in attendance, but the real spotlight was on the graduates.
Partnering with schools
The academy is a public-private partnership to promote workforce development in the networking technology fields.
MATC was the first college in Wisconsin to become a Cisco Networking Academy regional center, and has graduated 261 students who were enrolled in the program.
Statewide, 34 such academies have served nearly 12,000 students (about 2,500 annually] at technical schools and high schools in each of Wisconsin’s eight Congressional districts.
Nationally, the academy serves about 126,000 students at 2,300 sites, and globally it is active in 160 countries and has reached more than two million students.
Gene Longo, senior manager of U.S. field operations for the Cisco Networking Academy, said the company sensed the need to be proactive in IT workforce development in the early 1990s. Launched in October 1997, the academy was born out of an initiative that Cisco undertook in 1993 to design practical, cost-effective networks for schools.
“It quickly became apparent that designing and installing networks was not enough, as schools also needed some way to maintain the networks after they were up and running,” Longo recalled.
Skills in demand
In the first decade, the curriculum stressed the essentials of computer hardware and software, and Cisco established its own network professional certificate. Newer courses are more aligned to entry-level industry certification and to federal funding requirements, but it has not been easy to remain current with constantly evolving academic standards.
States have revised academic standards and student assessments to measure achievement and address requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Since enactment of the law in 2002, the academy has aligned its curriculum to all 50 state’s academic standards in math, science, and language arts.
In addition, Cisco relies on local institutions to track the skill needs of local employers. MATC has an advisory board that meets twice a year with Greater Madison companies, and occasionally must tailor academy curriculum to local needs. The meetings build on already established connections.
“All of our faculty have come from IT departments in the area,” noted Ken McCullough, chairman of MATC’s information technology department.
Bettsey Barhorst, president of MATC, likes public-private partnerships because they provide educational opportunities for students while maintaining flexibility. “The flexibility part of crucial,” she said, “because it allows our instructors to create a curriculum that’s tuned in to the needs of local employers.”
The Cisco academy is one of many designed to meet current and future IT workforce needs. For the 10-year period from 2004 to 2014, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics projects job increases of more than 20 percent in several computer occupations, including: computer support specialists, up 22 percent (119,190 more jobs); computer systems analysts, up 31 percent (152,960 jobs); network and computer systems administrators, up 38 percent (106,870 jobs); network systems and data communications analysts, up 54 percent (126,190 jobs); and computer and information systems managers, up 25 percent (72,620 jobs).
There are no guarantees of automatic employment upon completion of the Cisco academy, but there are a limited number of internship opportunities through the Cisco Fellowship Program, which places academy graduates in positions with Cisco partners. There also are opportunities for graduates to take exams to secure Cisco certifications, another way to land an entry-level IT job.
As secondary schools build IT career pathways into their curriculums, more students are responding – whether they are just starting out or they are established professionals who need to keep their job skills up to date. One teaching tool used in the academy program is the opportunity to take apart and put together a virtual laptop before working on the real thing. Other online instruction, which can be taken at the student’s home, is used for tasks such as configuring network components like switches and routers.
Kristine Klopp, a native of Madison and Cisco academy graduate, has earned a two-year associate degree in networking from MATC and is taking another course in intrusion detection. Before enrolling, Klopp was an accidental IT worker at a previous employer. She had been managing online databases until the technology manager left and she suddenly became the IT “go-to girl.”
That experience whetted her appetite for a technology career, and she believes the Cisco academy will open some doors. “The amount of knowledge I’ve gained in the last two years,” said Klopp, “has been exponential.”
• While schools combat low tech enrollment, are businesses contributing to IT workforce woes?
• Madison tech college to host Girl Tech 2007
• MATC student team wins cyber defense contest
• MATC seeks to turn around falling tech enrollment among women
• NSA certifies MATC’s network security program