A Texas Training Tale

A Texas Training Tale: Why Young IT Support Specialists Will Remember the Alamo

By R.C. Dirkes

You’ve heard that rallying cry from Texas history: “Remember the Alamo!”

A lot of young job seekers in the San Antonio region surely will, because of an entry-level IT training program delivered by workforce development agency C2 Global and its partner, the Custom Training team from CompTIA Tech.

In a recent episode of our award-winning podcast, Technologist Tales, C2 executives Aaron Smith and Ramsey Olivarez told host R.C. “Bob” Dirkes a Texas training tale. Smith, who is C2’s Chief Operations Officer, and Olivarez, who is C2’s Chief Innovation Officer, shared Workforce Solutions Alamo’s impressive record of success.

Here's an edited transcript of their conversation at CompTIA’s ChannelCon:

Aaron Smith: Workforce Solutions Alamo, which is one of our customers, is a training program that we built for their youth employment services program down there.

They take individuals, younger people, 24 and under, with barriers to employment who are typically lower-income and try to move them forward, give them access to training that's going to progress them quickly.

For the Alamo program, we partnered with CompTIA, and we pulled in a cohort of 20 young adults and from pretty disadvantaged backgrounds. And it's very much a pilot for us. We wanted to see if we've got a good training partner in there. We operated a program that was accelerated in a boot camp style, and we put a cohort together that could support each other as they went through the program. What would the outcomes be?

We've seen very positive results. We have extremely high [job] retention rate, which is tremendous when you look at the population we're serving, because most of those young people have barriers. And we, I believe, had 15 out of 16 passed the first round of [CompTIA] credentials on the first try. It's been wildly successful, and we certainly hope to continue it.

Bob Dirkes: Wow, 15 of 16.

And when you say barriers, you don't mean just some scheduling conflicts here and there.

Aaron: A lot of those individuals, just by nature of the program, are from situations where they're single parents. They're reliant on public benefits to make ends meet. They had a background with the criminal justice system.

We had several that were public housing recipients. We have a great project with the San Antonio Housing Authority to create a pipeline into that CompTIA class. I believe it was five or six of those young individuals came from the public housing projects, and they've all stayed in and they've all progressed as well.

So, even the most difficult to serve in that cohort have shown extremely positive results and good retention. We're pretty happy with that.

Ramsey Olivarez: And even though the group is only a size of 20, we probably have about 40 on a waiting list. [It’s] very popular with our job seekers.

We did outreach [explaining how] CompTIA was going to be providing credentials. And after [candidates] found that out, they were trying to do everything they could to get on board.

Aaron: It's resource intensive. We have folks in that classroom with our students coaching them all along the way.

What we're trying to do is make sure they don't hit any roadblocks. And if they do, immediately address them. And the roadblocks include if someone's in a situation where they need money for rent or they need transportation to get there. But that also includes really explaining to them the career opportunities that are there, making sure they stay engaged, and they see the endgame for themselves.

We actively coach and counsel every single kid in there to try and make sure that they really understand what they're doing, and they know the job opportunities when they come out. And that's been critical. Without those two staff in the classroom, with those 15 to 20 kids, we don't get the same outcomes.

Bob: And you're achieving these outcomes with many students who didn't complete high school, let alone had opportunities to pursue college.

Which calls to mind one of the myths we often discuss on this program: The misconception that a four-year degree is necessary to succeed in the technology fields. At Workforce Solutions Alamo, you and CompTIA appear to be debunking that myth. You agree, Ramsey?

Ramsey: You talk about the myth…

We work with all these employers every day, and we see that they're not requiring a four-year degree anymore. They just want the experience. They value experience more than the education part. So, when we can do this and get a credential this way, and still get them that job with the minimal investment, in this case, workforce is paying for all of it, it really helps out.

Aaron and I both have kids and we're talking about this right now… Do we steer them toward that four-year degree? Or a trade school? Or CompTIA certificate? A credential [with which] maybe they can find their own way versus going and getting in debt for a four-year degree.

Aaron: There is a broader cultural narrative that tells you if you don't go to get a four-year degree that you're not on the right path…Whether we like it or not there's guilt associated with not letting your kid go to a four-year college. Somehow inside of folks, they feel like that they're shortchanging their kid, that they're not really pushing them to be everything they can be.

And I think that just takes time to change. If you look at the way that the economy is going, and the labor market's going right now, especially not only with technology but with gig work that's out there, and all these different undercurrents that you have in the labor market, I think you're going to start to see that [college-degree myth] get deconstructed in a real way over the next decade or so.

Just because people aren't working the same way they used to.

When we were talking about our own kids... The example that [Ramsey] used was he would, maybe, tell his kid to go get a certificate before college. And so, that gives them better earning potential while they're in school, if they want to go to a four-year degree. It gives them some redundancy in terms of skill set and makes them more marketable and puts them in a better position overall.

Even if they go for that interdisciplinary, really broaden your mind goal and go to a four-year university, they've still got this other layer with them that's going to help them move forward in whatever they do.

Bob: Aaron, sum it up, the relationship with CompTIA in terms of the Alamo Program… how would you say they help you make it all work?

Aaron: Since it's not a training institution in the traditional sense, we were able to get a qualified instructor, get a group of individuals who are going to go through that course, and host the class through a partner in an area that's going to be convenient for participants.

So, we immediately start chipping away at some of the transportation and logistical barriers that would make somebody not be successful. And for me, in addition to CompTIA Tech’s Custom Training just having the background and really understanding soup to nuts what a credential is, a CompTIA credential, it's that flexibility that they bring to the table. They've been able to work with us to overcome some of the problems and challenges that we've had. And they've been a great planning partner.

Technologist Tales is produced for Creating IT Futures, CompTIA’s tech workforce charity, as a complement to the award-winning Technologist Talk podcast, featuring conversations with business leaders, workforce professionals and talent developers about shaping the careers of today’s and tomorrow’s technology workers.


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