Industry Launches Program to Solve Staffing Dilemmas

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Industry Launches Program to Solve Staffing Dilemmas

By Dennis McCafferty
Staff Writer

Seen enough young employees who can set up a local area network for an office of 50 but can't negotiate a service agreement? Or write a decent business letter?

An industry-supported effort in Colorado Springs, Colo., is attempting to come up with a solution.

With national studies indicating that the number of vacant information technology positions has surpassed 190,000, organizers of the new Support Services Career Certification program (http://www.s2c2.org) are working with higher education leaders to establish concrete professional standards and a national certification program for those seeking a career in technology services. Organizers are using guidelines established by the U.S. Commerce, Labor and Education departments to set the standards.

The program focuses on business, in addition to technical skills, complementing existing technical certificate programs offered by major hardware and software vendors, organizers say. The Help Desk Institute and the Software Support Professionals Association, two Colorado Springs-based industry associations representing 75,000 individual and corporate members, are underwriting the estimated $250,000 cost of the program.

To launch the program on a national level, organizers are planning a Support Services West conference and expo in San Jose, Calif., for academic and industry leaders. More than 100 academic representatives have signed up for the 200 available seats for the conference, which will be held Aug. 4-5. More than 1,500 industry participants have signed up for the business expo, which will be held Aug. 6-8 and has a maximum capacity of 6,000 slots.

"With all the advantages of technology that are developing around us, colleges aren't preparing students to be ready to go to work with proper business skills,'' said Judy Mittag, director of the program. "They don't know what to do. This will allow American businesses to compete more aggressively - globally and locally.''

With clear skill standards set to better prepare students for technology services careers - as well as a certificate to document the successful mastery of these skills - those organizing the program are confident that more people will be
encouraged to pursue vast opportunities in the technology industry.

Careers range from telephone sales and customer service representatives to junior-level integration specialist. Participating graduates would work on network support, software and hardware development, training and marketing. In earning a certificate, students will meet minimal standards to demonstrate problem-solving, sales, customer service and communications skills, organizers say.

"Staffing is one of the primary issues in the industry,'' said Sally Campbell, executive director of the software association, who started her career 20 years ago as a technical writer and rose to the level of corporate vice president for Group 1 Software in Lanham, Md. "This will have an immediate impact in recognizing that this is a true professional path. It will also bring new graduates in this area. People kind of fell into the support industry. Now, it can be recognized from the beginning and it will get the kind of grants and funding other professions get.''

Industry mentors will be sought to partner with participating colleges, to provide guidance for both students and program developers. The industry tie-in is also hoped to spark internships and other employee recruitment efforts, Mittag said. Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM Corp. and El Segundo, Calif.-based Computer Sciences Corp. are already taking part.

The program has been piloted at Houston Community College in Texas since fall 1996, as well as Humber College in Etobicoke, Ontario, since spring 1997. At Houston Community College, students taking personal computer and local area network classes are eligible to take part in the Support Services Career Certification program. So far, more than 25 are participating.

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