The Tech Training Stress Test
By Charles Eaton
In the recent presidential race, both candidates talked about job training as being high on the priority list of their administration. The IT industry, which by some counts has more than 300,000 open technical jobs, likes the sound of training — as do so many people who are out of work and looking for a new career direction.
At the Creating IT Futures Foundation, we certainly support training as a way to improve the skills of workers who have been unemployed so long their resumes are rusty, or who have had their industries (like manufacturing) disappear from under them. We’re grateful for the companies that have stepped forward to support what we’re doing on a daily basis to change people’s lives through IT careers.
But it has to be done right. The fact is there is more to job training and placement than meets the eye. It’s possible to do more harm than good, even when an organization is well-intentioned.
In crafting our IT-Ready Apprentice Program that we debuted in three cities in 2012, we spent almost a year studying training programs across the country to learn what was working. Looking closely at successful programs helped us create our own IT-Ready program that, in its first iteration, saw more than 90 percent of eligible graduates landing in full-time IT apprenticeships or permanent jobs within four months.
Certainly, we’ve learned some things the hard way, but our premise and program design were on target: Deploy an intense and disciplined training structure to build the knowledge, confidence and technical and soft skills of job candidates to match what local employers are looking for. We knew from the beginning that we were taking an experimental approach and we still have a lot we want to test and learn. We will continue to tweak some elements of our program in order to bring down costs and ensure that we have the most work-ready participants at graduation.
Here are six key questions that the Obama administration (as well as IT companies that generously support nonprofit training programs) should ask of any tech training program it funds:
- Is the program geographically relevant? That is, will there be available jobs located near those who are trained and are those jobs sustainable? Training is a long-term commitment; it doesn’t make sense to train for jobs that aren’t available or rely solely on one or two large employers.
- Is the training user-centered? Training that takes too long, that is located in a distant suburb or is held during hours that are impossible for the target populations to attend may miss its mark. Training programs have to understand the lives of those they are trying to help.
- Is there a clear return on investment? The cost of training one person can’t be too high, or it might turn out to have been more effective just to subsidize the salary of a new hire, as some programs have done as an alternative to training. Of course, the bigger picture of costs and gains to society needs to be factored in when looking at the outcomes of any training program, so the math isn’t always simple.
- Does the program use a proven model? There are lots of places in a training program where the wheels can go off the track. Not all training programs are built on a model that works. There is a science to workforce development, and the best programs use the scientific method to measure their success and adjust their models.
- Are the trainees screened for success — or failure? Putting someone through training when they clearly aren’t ready for (or interested in) IT as a career does more harm than good. Assessments can help to let in those with a better chance of succeeding and who show the interest, desire and commitment to make it through.
- Is there a bridge to employers? Not all job training programs’ success depends on relationships with employers. But certainly it is the case that trainees are often “all dressed up with no dance to go to." Cultivating employers who come to trust the process can be key to filling empty job slots.
Training and placement programs that are smart in their design and deployment can make a huge difference. We see that difference being made every day. That’s why it’s important to make sure that that the training that is funded has all the pieces in place. There is simply too much at stake for Americans over the next four years — no matter who is in the White House.
Charles Eaton is executive director of the Creating IT Futures Foundation, a 501(c)3 charity and the philanthropic arm of CompTIA .