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Collaborating to Address IT Labor Shortage.

The economy of the 21st century is full of challenges and opportunities. Last year U.S. employers needed roughly 1.6 million new IT workers, according to a study by the Information Technology Association of America.

Yet, the same study revealed that with the demand for appropriately skilled people far exceeding supply, half of those positions likely went unfilled.

Reaching more than 10 million students and producing 44 percent of all U.S. graduates, our country's nearly 1,200 community colleges are in a unique position to help prepare workers for this new economy.

With a long history of responsiveness to local education needs and support for businesses in their employee training efforts, community colleges have historically excelled at rapidly developing and implementing new curriculum and training, as well as certification programs to meet emerging work force needs. The schools also are adept at reaching a broader population than other postsecondary education institutions.

George R. Boggs, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), says, "The AACC/ACT Faces of the Future Study conducted last year revealed that community colleges provided a major contribution to student growth in computer skills, especially for single parents and first-generation college students. Significantly, 12 percent of both credit and noncredit students reported that they were attending community colleges to prepare for careers in information technology fields."

Community colleges cannot, however, meet this challenge on their own. Collaboration with the industry leaders who are developing today's technology and the companies hiring IT employees is playing a critical role in the strategies that community colleges are developing to prepare students for the new economy.

To ensure both the success of community college IT education programs and the continued strength of the IT industry, corporations must continue to work closely with and develop programs for this important part of the education community

Leading the charge

Community colleges are truly leading the charge in addressing the IT work force shortage, and they recognize the importance of working with industry to keep pace with the increasing demand.

Neil Evans, executive director of the National Workforce Center for Emerging Technologies (NWCET), in Bellevue, Wash., says that in the future everyone in America will be an information worker. NWCET is tackling the IT work force shortage by serving as a national thought leader and creating the products, services and best practices for all community colleges to use in their IT education programs.

Founded by Bellevue Community College in 1994 with a grant from the National Science Foundation, NWCET (whose name changed this year from NorthWest Center for Emerging Technologies) was a pioneer in the early identification and profiling of the IT work force shortage. In fact, the Information Technology Association of America developed its 2001 work force study based on taxonomy of eight IT career clusters developed by NWCET.

Evans says, "One of the key ways that we are going to address the IT work force shortage is by reskilling the current work force. Community colleges are at the center of that effort with education and professional certification programs. Another way is to increase the capacity of education to produce more of these qualified workers. By developing model IT skills curriculum, online courseware and educator workshops, NWCET is committed to helping community colleges build that capacity."

Strategic partnerships, including corporations such as Microsoft, Boeing and Avaya, are at the heart of NWCET's efforts.

"As new technology emerges, we need our corporate partners to help us define the work force demand," Evans said. "NWCET develops IT Skill Standards for those new technologies and our partner organizations, such as CompTIA and Prosofttraining.com, create business and education products based on those skills standards."

Staying current

One of the key challenges facing community colleges with IT education programs is helping faculty members keep their training and skills up to date with today's rapidly changing technology. In Florida, two community colleges are collaborating to solve this problem.

Florida's high-tech corridor has sprung up along Interstate 4, a stretch of highway that spans the state from Daytona Beach to Tampa. This area, referred to as the I-4 Corridor, is home to many technology companies -- small and large -- all with IT work force needs, particularly for technical specialists.

Community colleges play a key role in training the work force for these companies. With a National Science Foundation grant, Daytona Beach Community College and its colleague on the I-4 Corridor, Seminole Community College near Orlando, are helping community colleges in the Southeast ensure that they have the faculty necessary to offer current IT training. Through the Information Technology Education Center in Florida, these two schools are offering ongoing technology training for community college and high school faculty.

Bob Williams, the Center's executive director, says, "We realized that as community colleges mobilize to address the IT work force shortage, we are also faced with the shortage of faculty members with current technology certification.

When a history teacher, for example, comes to a community college, we expect them to have the background to teach history. But with the rapid changes in technology, IT instructors need to update their skills and learn new products on an annual -- and sometimes more frequent -- basis."

However, sending faculty to commercial training offerings is often out of reach for community college budgets. Daytona Beach and Seminole community colleges developed their models based on what Williams calls a "channel development approach."

"We are creating a channel to deliver IT workers," he said. "The first step is training faculty who can then reach the students."

Williams says they are hiring the best certified trainers that they can find to teach these courses and designing a curriculum that not only teaches faculty the subject area content, but also how to develop strategies for delivering the content in the classroom.

"The beauty of what is happening in IT is that the vendors are making a significant contribution to curriculum development. Unlike traditional curriculum, our IT curriculum is really coming from the vendors and their publishing partners," says Williams.

Williams agrees that strategic partnerships play a key role in helping community colleges prepare students for the new economy.

"We wouldn't be as far along in our IT training efforts if it weren't for corporate programs, such as Microsoft's Authorized Academic Training Program (AATP)," says Williams. "If community colleges are going to continue to prepare IT workers, it is critical that corporations continue to invest in education support and supply us with learning resources."

In November of this year, AATP transitions to the Microsoft IT Academy Program representing a new emphasis on quality and programmatic support for academic institutions identified as Academies by Microsoft. This new annual membership model will have an emphasis on faculty training, technical support and community to fully support schools addressing the IT work force shortage in their local communities.

The "person-job fit"

In the central United States, Ohio's largest community college, Cuyahoga Community College, also is offering leading technology training and ensuring that its students have the requisite technical skills and experience to enter the IT work force.

In addition, according to Sherry Jones, executive director, Strategic Technologies, Workforce and Economic Development, Division, the college also realized that attention must be given to the "person-job fit" phenomenon. Companies are looking for employees with specific technical skills, but also for individuals who "fit" within their corporate culture and environment.

To help students and businesses deal with this issue, Cuyahoga Community College developed a tool that identifies the corporate culture of a business unit and organization and then determines a job candidate's blueprint in terms of identified behavioral competencies, such as aptitude for teamwork, decision-making ability, initiative and time management skills.

This tool not only helps businesses identify employees, but also helps the college refine or develop curriculum to help students build the types of behavioral aptitudes that today's work force demands. This collaboration between education and business is helping companies do a better job of hiring people who "fit" and helping the college better prepare students for those jobs.

"Partnering with a team of industry-leading technical vendors; developing technical programs centered around national skill standards ... are crucial steps which attribute to our success as a premier provider of IT work force solutions," Jones said.

Microsoft commitment

Microsoft has long recognized the significant role that community colleges can play in addressing the IT work force shortage and the ways that corporations can support them in their efforts.

Since 1998, Microsoft has partnered with the American Association of Community Colleges on Working Connections, a grant program to help community colleges develop and enhance IT training programs. Over a five-year period, AACC and Microsoft have awarded $40 million in cash grants, plus software and technical assistance to 63 community colleges.

Since April of this year, community colleges have been able to sign up to participate in Microsoft's latest effort to support IT curricula, the MSDN Academic Alliance.

For an annual membership fee of $799, colleges with computer science, engineering and information systems courses can offer their students and faculty unlimited access to development tools and technologies for .NET, Microsoft's next generation Web application platform, and resources for integrating these tools into the curricula.

Through such programs and initiatives, Microsoft is demonstrating its commitment to this effort and will continue to collaborate with the community college community to develop programs and initiatives that will best meet their needs so that they can continue to play a key role in addressing the critical IT work force shortage.

JANIE SCHWARK MANAGER ACADEMIC PROGRAMS, MICROSOFT DEVELOPER GROUP
COPYRIGHT 2001 Autumn Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:information technology
Author:SCHWARK, JANIE
Publication:Community College Week
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 15, 2001
Words:1586
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