Business needs new IT blood
Outsourcing has drained the sink of new graduates
By Kim S. Nash | CIO US | Published: 16:30, 02 March 2010
A Fresh Start
Solenny Herrera finished an NPower internship with Philadelphia's Reed Technology and Information Services in January. Her managers, including CIO and COO David Ballai, an NPower board member, were so impressed with her aptitude that they quickly expanded her duties. She started out supporting Windows 7, but she also configured network printers, wiped data from hard drives and servers, diagnosed problems with Microsoft Outlook email and learned about the tape backup and security protocols required for handling data for the federal government.
"This exposure has changed my life and my future," Herrera says.
Her future looked bleak only a few months ago. Last summer, Herrera, 24, and her husband, José, were looking for work. She had been laid off from a job as a machine operator at a soap company and he had quit his job on the assembly line at a manufacturer of doors and windows to take another job that didn't work out. Nothing the Herreras applied for was panning out, and Solenny was spending many hours volunteering at her church, comforting and encouraging other jobless faithful.
In August, as the national unemployment rate reached 9.7 percent, her sister-in-law showed her a flyer about a new program offering free technology training to high school graduates. Herrera thought, "Why not?" She had taken some college courses and had worked briefly as a collections agent. She and José each applied and were both accepted.
NPower had run a successful youth training program, called the Technology Service Corps, in New York since 2002. In 2009, the Pennsylvania chapter was starting its own version, called ITWorks. About $54,000 in one-time grants came in from the United Way and Philadelphia Workforce Development, an agency that connects workers with jobs. ING Direct and Reed Elsevier (the parent company of Reed Technology and Information Services) together donated $15,000, and Drexel University provided about $10,000 worth of classroom time and resources, says Patrick Callihan, NPower Pennsylvania executive director.
Within a week of distributing flyers at youth centers around Philadelphia, which is among the 10 poorest cities in the United States, 150 people had applied for 15 slots. Callihan chose applicants for in-person interviews. He offered the spots to the people who were financially neediest, based on information they provided about income, hours worked recently (if any) and living arrangements, and who also showed enthusiasm, aptitude and commitment.
Students pay nothing to take NPower's training course, but neither do they get a stipend to cover living expenses, despite the fact that the program is full time, five days a week for 11 weeks. Students also get a 5-week internship at a local company, which helps them get a foot in the door. Still, many promising candidates can't afford to attend, Callihan says.
In the Herreras' case, José's mother agreed to cover what she could of Solenny and José's living expenses during the program. In September, they and the other students began rethinking what they knew and learning what they didn't.
A big lesson for Solenny Herrera was learning how to work in a team, be dependable and depend upon other people. "I wasn't exposed to meeting people before or letting people reach you when they need you," she says. It wasn't as if she didn't want to work this way; she just never had.
Teaching potential IT employees these basic skills so that they can do largely unglamorous entry-level jobs is part of the appeal nonprofit training programs have for CIOs, says Diane Schueneman, a board member of Year Up. As senior vice president and head of global infrastructure solutions at Merrill Lynch (she retired in 2008), Schueneman helped start Year Up's New York chapter in 2002. When she heard from Year Up founder Gerald Chertavian what the organization was doing in Boston and Providence, she says, she knew she'd found a way to advance her campaign to bring more women into IT. About half of Year Up participants are women.
The one-year program, now operating in six cities, consists of training for six months and then a six-month internship. Unlike in NPower's shorter program, Year Up students receive a stipend of between $150 and $240 a week. In turn, they agree to strict rules about behavior and attendance that mirror common workplace norms. Many of these students come from environments without role models for corporate workplace behavior, Schueneman says. Students start with a pool of points and lose some for each infraction. Errant students can, she says, "fire themselves out of the program" by violating rules.