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The Supply of Information Technology Workers in the United States

Chapter 6: Supply — Non-Degree Programs

When people think of higher education, they generally think of students enrolling in colleges and universities to earn traditional formal degrees. As the previous chapter discussed, there is a well-established system of formal higher education for information technology (IT). The explosion of non-degree programs in information technology, however, is less well known. Figure 6-1 shows that work-related training is offered to nearly three times as many people as are enrolled in traditional post-secondary education. Figure 6-2 shows that even among those who are in the post-secondary educational system, less than one-third of those enrolled are traditional full-time students.

Non-degree programs take many forms: certificate and enrichment courses taught by colleges and universities at every level; training provided by private educators, ranging from individual consultants to large commercial educational firms; training associated with specific IT products; businesses that train their own workforce; and courses offered via distance education. The length and purpose of these programs also vary widely-from the half-day course or shorter lecture and seminar that give an overview of a specific topic, to the two-week course that provides a working knowledge of a focused topic, to the six-month certification program that offers in-depth knowledge of a focused topic, to the apprenticeship that may last several years and result in significant career progression.

These forms of education appear to be growing very fast. However, because they are so varied and non-traditional, there is a lack of reliable data with which to evaluate their growth rates. For the most part, these forms of training provide IT workers with knowledge and skills required to meet specific vocational needs. Training time is usually relatively short and costs generally quite low. The training is unlikely to provide longer-term foundational knowledge that would support a life-long career. People sometimes enroll in these programs at their own initiative to enhance their careers, and often because their companies have asked them to acquire new skills and knowledge. Typical examples include the individual who is seeking:

Companies are also using this kind of training to impart knowledge about the corporate mission and practices, to improve employees' non-technical skills such as communication and teamwork, or to give them non-technical knowledge of best practices in their industry.

What Non-Degree Programs Do Traditional Colleges and Universities offer? ?

Non-degree programs are offered at every level from two-year colleges to graduate school. Certificate programs and short courses, both specializing in some particular area within information technology (such as networking, electronic commerce technology, or software project management).76

The typical IT graduate certificate program is an adult continuing education program, directed at a person who possesses a bachelor's degree (but not necessarily in an IT major). A working knowledge of information technology may suffice to perform well in these programs. At the end of the course of study, the student is expected to have learned the basic theory and concepts of the particular area of IT under study, and to be familiar with the state of the art and trends. Graduates should have acquired enough knowledge of the area that they can keep their knowledge current as the field develops. The program will typically include between three and six courses at the post-baccalaureate level, and possibly an independent project. Completing these programs should extend the range of jobs available to the graduates to include various occupations that involve creating, extending, or tending technical information systems.

Many two-year colleges have certificate programs in information technology. These programs train people for occupations that are considered highly skilled in comparison to most occupations but are, in fact, among the less skilled kinds of IT work. They generally involve the tending or extending of technical information systems, and carry titles such as computer pro-grammer, office systems specialist, network technician, computer repairer, multimedia and Web designer, or vendor-specific certified technicians (such as a Microsoft or Novell technician). The students entering these programs include persons who are just beginning their education or their careers, those who have now received non-IT bachelor's degrees and may have some work experience but who want a better-paying or more fulfilling job, as well as others.

The offerings of the four-year colleges and teaching-oriented universities are somewhat harder to classify. They are targeted somewhere between the offerings of the research university and the two-year college, and they contain elements of each. They offer moderately low-level courses in topics such as Web design or vendor-specific certification, undergraduate-level courses in topics such as Java programming, and post-baccalaureate courses similar to those offered in the research universities. Often these courses are tailored for specific companies that are located near the schools. This has become a major activity and significant source of revenue for some schools, such as the American University in the Washington, DC, region and Bentley College in the Boston area.

What Other Groups Supply Non-Degree Programs? ?

In addition to two- and four-year colleges and the universities, many other groups supply non-degree training in information technology. One is the vocational training school, such as DeVry or IIT Training Institute. These schools offer programs typically aimed at individuals who do not have a college degree. The nature of the instruction is primarily vocational, and the training programs typically prepare the students for specific jobs in the lower-end occupations in the IT workforce.

Private educators also supply training. Some are individual consultants, others are well-established firms such as Software Learning Associates. These private educators offer mainly consulting services or short courses focused on specific IT skills-ranging from project management, to computer programming, to people management skills, to the use of specific tools and IT products. Courses are available at every level of skill, directed at virtually every occupation within the IT field.

Product suppliers often provide training for people who will use or maintain their products at customer sites. Many IT products are very complicated, making training essential in these cases. Concerned about the technical capabilities of people who are using and maintaining their products, IT vendors such as Microsoft and Novell have developed more than 150 vendor-specific certification programs for technicians. Certification assures customers that they are hiring qualified people to use or maintain these IT products. These certification programs often are licensed to other kinds of suppliers, such as independent educators and two-year and four-year colleges. A two-year college might want, for example, to offer a certificate program in networking, and it must choose some particular technology to use in teaching general principles; to meet this need, it might choose to license a particular vendor's training program. This can be very attractive to college administrators or state legislators because the vendor may be willing to: guarantee employment for all students who successfully complete the certification process; provide a completely developed curriculum and curricular materials; help train the school's faculty to teach the program; and perhaps even provide instructional equipment free of charge or at reduced cost. These vendor-specific programs may also have a downside, however. Some educators are concerned because of the undue influence they are having on the design of curricula.

What Is the Role of Corporate Universities in Training and Educating IT Workers? ?

Corporate universities have existed since the 1950s, but during the last decade the number has multiplied from 400 to more than 1,000 (at the same time that more than 200 accredited colleges have gone out of business).77 Corporate universities may now be the fastest growing sector of higher education. They have developed because of the widely perceived need in the corporate sector for life-long learning, and the belief of many employers that the existing post-secondary system is not able to deliver what they want their employees to learn. There is a widely held view in corporate management that most workers in the future will be "knowledge workers," who will need to keep abreast of the latest developments in their rapidly changing field; thus these managers regard continuous education as an important way to keep the company competitive. Given that many companies headquartered in Europe and Asia are spending two to five times as much on training as American companies, this is often viewed as a global competitiveness issue.

Ten years ago corporate universities usually had physical campuses, just like accredited universities. Some still do. Motorola University, for example, has campuses around the world. Others, such as Dell University or Sun University, have no campus at all. The emerging view of the corporate university is as a process rather than a place-a process for providing life-long learning to all who are involved in the company's well-being (employees at every level, customers, suppliers, dealers, distributors, wholesalers, etc.). Physical locales are increasingly being considered not so much as the principal places of learning, but as a good place to carry out one specific aspect of learning-the sharing of best practices. These physical classrooms are supplemented by many technical ways of delivering courses at a distance.

Corporate universities use many technologies in the learning process, such as satellite broadcasts, video and audiotapes, knowledge databases, tutorial CD-ROMs, and Internet/intranet-based courses. The amount of learning carried out through the use of technology is increasing rapidly, and a recent survey indicates that half of all corporate training will occur in this fashion by the year 2000.78 This new way of delivering learning works well for employees, suppliers, and customers who are spread throughout the world and who cannot afford the time or expense to come to a physical site for training. It also fits well with the rapid pace at which the business world, and the knowledge required to be effective in it, is changing.

More than 4 million people already learn through corporate universities and their learning partners (traditional training firms, accredited universities, for-profit educational firms, etc.). Nearly half of all corporate universities already have some kind of alliance with an accredited educational institution, and 40 percent of corporate universities expect to start granting accredited degrees in collaboration with an accredited college or university. The degrees they confer range from the associate's through the master's level. For example, AT&T School of Business partners with the University of Phoenix, which is one of the fastest growing for-profit educational firms (having grown from 3,000 to 40,000 students in the past decade). AT&T employees can take courses that count toward a degree at more than 50 University of Phoenix campuses and learning centers around the country. The corporate universities regard the traditional colleges and universities as suppliers, just like their suppliers of raw materials, parts, and services. They bring all suppliers into their educational program to instill shared values and approach. Thus Motorola partners with various two- and four-year colleges not only for the traditional teaching services these schools can provide, but also so that the schools will learn what skills and knowledge Motorola wants to impart to its workforce.

What corporate universities are teaching is driven by what the companies believe they need most in order to succeed in business today. In this respect, corporate universities differ markedly from traditional post-secondary education, which has basic education as its primary focus. Some technical skills are taught in the corporate universities, but much of what is taught is non-technical. The corporate universities seek to develop corporate citizenship (learning the cultures, values, traditions, and vision of the company), provide a contextual framework to the company (learn the company's customers, competitors, and industry's best practices), and teach core competencies. These competencies include:79

The direction in which corporate universities are headed is clear from examples of four types of programs that have been successfully placed in practice. The examples are not taken from the IT industry and do not apply specifically to IT workers, but it is clear that these approaches could and probably will be applied in this domain.

1. Customized executive educational programs, ranging from short courses to full-fledged MBA programs, allow corporations to customize a program that uses its own corporate culture and company-specific case studies in the courses. This is what the Whirlpool Corp. has done in collaboration with the University of Michigan, Indiana University, and a French educational institution.

2. Some corporations ally themselves with colleges and universities to develop an accredited, customized training curriculum that teaches the exact skills the corporation needs for specific job categories. For example, Megatech Engineering has joined with Central Michigan University to develop a bachelor's degree program in automotive vehicle design to alleviate a perceived shortage of automotive designers. Megatech Academy, which is located on the premises of Megatech Engineering's vehicle design building complex, has received accreditation from the State of Michigan to award this bachelor's degree. Megatech employees can also take these courses toward a design certificate.

3. Corporations and universities are beginning to form consortia so that a group of companies within an industry can gain from a single corporate university, or so that one or more companies can take advantage of faculty talent from a collection of universities. For example, the Southern Company and eleven other companies in the Atlanta area have formed a consortium with Emory University for a three-week training course spread over a four-month period to teach corporate strategy, global business environment, and leadership skills. United Healthcare and United Technologies have entered into a consortium with Rensselaer Learning Institute, which brokers courses from Boston University, Carnegie-Mellon University, Stanford University, and MIT through Interactive Compressed Video technology available to the 200,000 United workers at specified work sites.

4. Some corporate universities have decided to become accredited on their own. An example is the Arthur D. Little School of Management, formed originally to handle the corporate training requirements of Arthur D. Little clients around the world, and now an accredited program of The International Association of Management Education.

The corporate universities are able to respond to change much more quickly than the traditional colleges and universities. Corporate university courses are sometimes placed online within a week of their being adopted, whereas it usually takes a college a year to implement a new course. Dell University updates its catalog of offerings every two weeks, compared with every one to two years for the typical university.

What Is the Role of Distance Learning in Educating the IT Workforce? ?

The success of corporate universities is likely to be dependent on distance learning. Distance learning may also become a significant tool for those who supply traditional post-secondary education. Correspondence schools have existed since the nineteenth century, but the introduction of many new technologies is raising new possibilities and challenges for educators.80

Distance learning has advanced in a number of ways. In the self-learning area, there are improved methods, such as broadcast television, rule-based software, CD-ROMs, and video, for delivering distance education. It is sometimes difficult, however, to know how much someone has learned from courses based on these media. Many believe that students learn more effectively through interactive processes, such as interactive television. The interactive approach has several advantages in that an instructor can directly apply many of his or her skills from the traditional classroom, and the only start-up costs are the capital equipment and the leased line. (There is no major up-front curricular development cost, although it may take some effort and learning, including some new skills, to produce visuals that can be televised effectively.) One shortcoming is that the instruction is restricted to a specific time and place. To overcome these limitations, some people are proponents of asynchronous distance learning, which can occur at any time and any place, within certain limits. The challenge is to build an affordable, user-friendly system that allows interactive teacher-student and student-student exchanges about problems and concepts.

Most asynchronous distance learning courses in operation today are experimental. However, a number of projects are now under way to develop systems that can be placed into regular operation, meet realistic learning objectives, and are not too expensive for students. Most of these systems involve Web-based learning, perhaps supplemented by a course textbook or some other technology such as CD-ROM. Schemes have been developed, for example, that allow an instructor to ask questions, require answers to be turned in, grade assignments and give individual students feedback, and post model answers. There are also ways for all the students to see answers given to an individual student's questions, and ways for students to work with one another. It appears that experimentation will continue about how to build such systems, and continued progress is likely.

Some of the barriers to implementing distance learning systems have been overcome in the past five years. Communication expenses-for dedicated data lines or national toll-free numbers provided by the supplier, for example-were extremely high for early systems. Today, a student can sign up for $20 or less per month with a local Internet service provider and have communications access. The costs of the computers used by students to obtain their education have also fallen, from more than $3,000 to less than $1,000 for an adequate machine. As more people become familiar with the Internet and the World Wide Web, it is likely that prospective students and employees will increasingly consider distance learning a convenient alternative to more traditional educational methods.

While progress has been made in distance education, some barriers persist. Video delivery systems need to improve; the pedagogy of dis-tance learning warrants further study; and economic factors are still a consideration. Institutional barriers can also be strong-in fact, IT companies themselves have not been leaders in the adoption of asynchronous distance education.

It is too early to tell whether teachers will like this format. One potential advantage is that once a question has been answered for one student, it can be recorded permanently and made available on demand to all the other students. The asynchronous mode also seems well suited to teaching technical subjects because a student who gets stuck on a problem can put it aside to think over or ask for a hint from the instructor or other class members. Instructors have also found that the format works for group discussions, and that technical design problems can be solved by the class as a whole and result in satisfactory designs. Many of the instructors who have tried asynchronous distance learning have liked it, but they are the early adopters that one encounters with any new technology; and sometimes the reactions of the larger community are not as positive as those of the early adopters.

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation is working with thirty-five degree-granting institutions, including Stanford, Pennsylvania State, Drexel, Johns Hopkins, and the University of Illinois, to develop distance learning programs. Here are three promising examples:


A number of qualitative observations and issues about non-degree training arose in the course of the study:

Is Retraining Occurring, and if so, How Long Does it Take To Retrain for an IT Job? ?

Little information is available about the nature and extent of industry's commitment to retrain IT workers, although some is available on corporate retraining in general. It appears that companies are increasingly prepared to devote resources to retraining in order to keep their existing workforce up to date and productive. There is little evidence, however, that companies are willing to spend resources on entry training that would allow a person with good general skills to change occupations at company expense. Many companies still believe it is the individual's responsibility to learn the basic technological skills the occupation requires before being hired. Even with the basic occupational skills in place, it typically takes a new employee six months (or more, in the case of positions that involve advanced skills or extensive education) to learn enough about the organization and the particular job to be fully productive. Some companies, especially small ones, have trouble affording the costs of carrying a less-than-fully productive employee for six months or a year, much less having the responsibility as well for providing the basic occupational skill training.

The news is more positive when considering job seekers. There seems to be a large pool of people willing to retrain for IT work. Presumably this is because of the widely perceived view about the availability of jobs, good wages, the professional nature of the work, the opportunities to do it without relocating, the increasing number of people who have some familiarity with computers and networks, and the intrinsic interest of the work. An examination of three institutions (Northern Virginia Community College, the Applied Management Institute in Omaha, and Clayton College and State University in Georgia) confirms that significant numbers of persons twenty-five years or older will elect to pursue IT preparation if it is available at times, in places, and in ways that accommodate the constraints of their lifestyles. These schools have seen people with both baccalaureate and advanced degrees seeking both credit and non-credit IT courses and training.81

It does not take all that long for someone with good academic skills to retrain for many IT occupations. The length of these training programs varies. For example, about six months of full-time training can prepare an individual with some scientific programming experience to become an entry-level Unix systems administrator. A two-year associate's degree program can enable a high school graduate to work as a computer programmer or a computer maintenance technician. The most advanced IT occupations are not generally accessible to people with this kind of retraining, but instead require an advanced degree in an IT-related discipline that may take many years to complete.



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Document last modified on Wednesday, 04-Apr-2012 06:51:20 PDT.