Creating IT Careers Is Job 1 For CompTIA Chief

The anemic state of the U.S. job market is not lost on tech industry leaders  least of all the headTodd Thibodeaux of the country’s leading IT association. CompTIA President and CEO Todd Thibodeaux previewed a status report he’ll deliver at Breakaway 2012, the group’s annual trade show this summer  nearly all the key initiatives point back to job creation in the IT sector.

Exhibit No. 1 is a pilot program CompTIA’s Creating IT Futures Foundation kicked off in May called IT-Ready Apprentices. Twenty-four long-term unemployed people in Minnesota and Cincinnati entered an eight-week course to become CompTIA A+ certified. Plus they receive a six-month apprenticeship and a guaranteed job offer. The job placement is done in partnership with IT businesses, but the training is fully funded by CompTIA’s foundation, a 501(c)(3) charity first established in 1998, which is funded by CompTIA’s certification and testing revenue.

Thibodeaux is particularly proud of the fact that the program costs only $5,000 per student, which is far less than other programs, he said. “We are trying to create a replicable model that we can take out to other cities in the country,” he said.

While there is a spillover benefit to the IT industry in getting trained workers, Thibodeaux said this effort is more philanthropic. “First and foremost we are trying to help people get careers. It’s benefiting people first and foremost and the industry is kind of a secondary beneficiary,” he said.

This program will help get entry-level workers in the pipeline, he said, explaining only time and an improved economy will enable these newcomers to be “skilled up” to fill many of the specific jobs that employers complain they can’t fill today.

This pipeline is going to be increasingly important once the Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) are retired, he added. “We don’t have anything close to the pipeline of individuals coming into technical careers to replace the people that are going to be leaving,” he said, estimating 8-9 million will be retiring over the next 10-15 years while the number coming in is 10-15 percent below what is needed.

CompTIA is planning a workforce gap study to update those estimates later this year or early in 2013. “I think we’ll find the gap is much worse than that,” he said. “Those are jobs that are not going to be solved by H1B [work] visas. They are not going to be solved by STEM [science technology engineering and math] education.”

Come again? Isn’t the focus on math and science supposed to fill the gap? Thibodeaux says, no. “A lot of the kids who end up in IT careers are not math and science geniuses. A lot of the kids who end up in IT careers didn’t go to a four-year university,” he said.

He predicts that the blowback we are seeing regarding the cost of a college degree will take care of itself in a migration back to vocational careers, including IT. For its part, though, IT suffers from a bit of a PR problem.

“People think they have to sit behind a computer screen all day. They think that they have to be a math and science genius and they think that they won’t interact with other people. And, why bother anyway since all the jobs are outsourced? None of those things are true.” 

CompTIA will work to dispel those rumors among secondary school students with it’s “IT is cool” campaign starting in 2013.

In addition, CompTIA is trying to bring clarity to IT jobs market; there are not thousands of job descriptions as some lists would have people believing, Thibodeaux said.  “Being a network administrator in one vertical or another, there’s very little difference,” he said. “What we are trying to do is bring rationalization to the identification of what an IT job really means. What are the qualifications, what is the job like and what are the career opportunities?”

Workforce issues are a major focus of CompTIA’s advocacy efforts as well. Thibodeaux said CompTIA lobbies for initiatives such as the reauthorization of the Work Investment Act and the availability of the Federal Perkins Loans, which provide low-interest loans to help needy students finance the costs of postsecondary education. The association also is sponsoring a Troops to Tech Careers program to help returning soldiers find jobs by creating a registry of companies with jobs specifically allocated for veterans.

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