Northwest Arkansas companies support ‘IT Readiness’ certificate program to train more tech workers

by Kim Souza ( 133 views 

Fueled with data from the Northwest Arkansas Council, local tech leaders and the University of Arkansas Global Campus are pairing up to offer four certificate programs in IT (information technology) Readiness to help fill the skills gap in the region.

The certificate courses are subsidized from an $851,062 grant the Global Campus received from the Arkansas Department of Higher Education for workforce training. This is one of two grants made by the state for this program. The other was a $48,954 grant to cover the program costs associated with planning.

The grants allows for the UA Global Campus to purchase equipment, hire instructors and teach courses in hour specific content areas:
• Front-end development;
• Back-end development;
• JAVA and analytics; and
• Mobile development.

Program tuition is $799 and requires students to meet two evenings a week and every other Saturday for a six-month period. Students will get hands-on training from instructors who work full-time in the local IT sector. The program also requires students to work on an industry specific project. Upon completion of the certificate program the job possibilities are good.

Michel Harvey, economist with the Northwest Arkansas Council, told Talk Business & Politics that there are roughly 380 new IT-related jobs created each year in the region. He said the IT sector already employs about 8,000, which has doubled since 2001.

He said about 18 months ago the Council identified a skills gap in the IT segment as voiced by employers large and small. Harvey said discussions with academia and business supported by state funding culminated in the four programs they hope will provide a pathway for people to get training needed to earn more money while also filling a pipeline for local companies with candidates who have the basic skills to work different technology jobs.

Harvey said average pay for base line technical support specialists is $20 per hour or about $40,000 annually. Software developers can earn an average of $35 an hour, or $73,000 per year. He said the two areas there are about 225 new job openings created each year in the local region – jobs that are largely going unfilled.

Tara Dryer, director of training, development and academic outreach at the UA Global Campus, said the new certificate programs offer value for residents who want to enhance skills in one of the fastest growing employment sectors in the country. She said a typical program can cost between $12,000 and $15,000. She said students will not only get hands-on training in the hard skills but each program will also include a segment on the importance of soft skills which are essential in this field, such as critical thinking and problem solving.

While Dyer said there are no guarantees each program graduate will get a job, she said the grant funding also provides for a guidance counselor. The counselor will work with each student to figure out a plant after certificate completion, such as career or more college. NorthWest Arkansas Community College has already agreed to provide the certificate earners eight hours of college credit for the completion of an IT Readiness program.

Bentonville-based Rev Unit has also helped program development. Michael Paladino, co-founder of Rev Unit, said his company performed a deep dive into local job openings to identify the skills needed to be hired as an intern or junior-level developer.

“From this set of skills, we derived a curriculum that is accessible to someone who has never written code. The goal of this process has been that through these certificate programs and connections with our industry partners, someone who has never written code can have the opportunity to start a career as a software developer,” Paladino said.

He knows first hand how crucial a talent pipeline is in this field. His own firm has grown to 33 workers since being founded in 2012. Paladino has also been advocate for the high school intern program and this summer has two interns from Bentonville High School.

Dyer said there is a strong demand from the local business community for this program evidence by the partners who wanted to take part. The partners include Acxiom, Collective Bias, Field Agent, J.B. Hunt, Metova, Northwest Arkansas Council, Rev Unit, Rockfish, Saatchi & Saatchi X, Startup Junkie, Tata Consultancy Services and Wal-Mart Stores. She said the academic partners that lined up behind the project include UA Global Campus, Northwest Technical Institute, NorthWest Arkansas Community College, Bentonville and Springdale Public Schools.

Participants who want to sign up for the first two classes may do so online. The first program, back-end development, begins Sept. 26 and the front-end development program will begin Oct. 3. Other program begin dates will be posted in the coming weeks. There is a 14 student cap in each program. She said the first day the application went live on the college’s website there were four applicants, before the program had any marketing.