There seem to be countless opportunities for IT pros to find training in a range of areas that can enhance their careers, including cloud computing and cybersecurity. But just how accessible is a cloud computing certification for people without a traditional computer background, and how is this lack of diverse education impacting employers?
The people who hire and work within technology are thinking about these questions as they explore alternative ways to close the skills gap pervasive in the industry.
For ManTech, a provider of IT services and cybersecurity for defense, intelligence and federal civilian markets, its partnership with Purdue Global University has allowed it to hire new graduates with degrees outside of the traditional IT scope and provide cloud computing certification.
“Our challenge right now is not necessarily the college degrees, but it’s the skills that go with it,” Karen Gardner, Executive Director, Training and Organizational Development at ManTech said. “As an employer, we’ve had to do a lot of upskilling even with a brand-new college degree.”
ManTech reached out to Purdue Global to see if it would be possible to develop a program that would provide the skills its employees need to support government agencies in their move to the cloud. The result is Purdue Global’s first Bachelor of Science degree program in cloud computing.
“Purdue didn’t have a degree in cloud computing and solutions six months ago, and they’re working on another degree for us around data analytics, AI and machine learning,” she said. Currently, five percent of ManTech’s employees are in a Purdue Global program. Garnder said that ManTech has at least doubled its spending on technical training each year.
Gardner said the biggest skill that is critical for its employees right now is understanding the process of moving government data from where it sits now to the cloud.
“It’s a resource issue for us. I would rather leave my subject matter experts on a contract working for the government, to solve these problems and move things to the cloud, then I would to take them off of the contract and have them organize and teach training sessions for our employees internally,” Gardner said. Employees also benefit in that they learn from instructors with diverse backgrounds – in retail or healthcare, for example – and even other students taking the classes.
Gardner said that a lot of its new employees are millennials, coming into the workforce with huge amounts of college debt. They want to work for ManTech, but they can’t afford to get another bachelor or master’s degree to augment their education, she said.
“Having a company pay for that has just been an extraordinary benefit, and our recruiters love it, because no one else was doing it, we were the only game in town,” Gardner said.
Though millennials sometimes feel that the clearance process required to work on government contracts is daunting – no Fitbits or iPhones are allowed in the secure location where they work – Gardner said millennial employees are hungry for opportunities to learn.
“If there’s a generation that pushes me as the chief learning officer it’s the millennials, because if I don’t make it available, they’re going to ask for it,” she said.
This benefit allows employees to gain a cloud computing certification or cybersecurity training while continuing to work at ManTech. One employee, who was born in Iraq and grew up in the Netherlands before moving to the U.S. a couple of years ago, is taking an undergraduate degree in cybersecurity, all with a child at home and a baby on the way.
“Diversity is definitely an outgrowth of this and something we see as one of those intangible benefits especially since, instead of recruiting at the big colleges … or the traditional IT schools that tend to turn out a pretty homogeneous population, we’ve been able to take students who maybe have an undergraduate degree from a historically black college or people who have a different background and turn them into cyber professionals, rather than take somebody who has maybe worked in the cyber field their whole life,” Gardner said.