Open, affordable and stackable

By Matthew Dembicki

Henry Gage was working at Target during Covid — one of the few places open during the pandemic at the time — when he decided it was time for a change.

Gage was ready to dive into the information technology (IT) field — he would often help family members troubleshoot their computers — so he took Google certification courses offered through tech trainer Merit America in Washington, D.C. Today, the 25-year-old lives across the Potomac River in northern Virginia where he is a support operations specialist for Cisco Meraki, a cloud-IT company.

Gage says he wants to spread the word to local teens and young adults about the career opportunities in IT that don’t necessarily require a four-year degree or include burdensome college debt.

Filling multiple needs

That’s what IT companies like Google (and politicians in Virginia) want to hear. On Thursday, Google and Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) announced the Google cybersecurity certificate, the newest credential in the Google suite. Gage was among the adult learners who benefited from Google’s career certificate and shared their stories at a press event at NOVA for the new program.

All kinds of organizations — from small businesses to federal agencies — need cyber professionals to help them with their security needs. There are 700,000 vacancies in the field in the U.S., 60,000 of which are in Virginia, the world’s top market for data centers, said Phil Venables, chief information security officer at Google Cloud.

The new Google certificate not only provides a way to help fill those positions, but it also offers an easy and affordable path to an entry-level IT job and potential career, he said. Anyone can sign up for the online course (which takes less than six months to complete) at a low cost — free for many students. Virginians can take the new certificate through VA Ready, an initiative in the state to rapidly reskill residents for in-demand jobs.

It’s not just about the education and training; it’s also about landing jobs with promising career prospects, Venables said. Google works with a consortium of more than 150 major corporations, like American Express and Colgate-Palmolive, that are eager to hire employees with newly earned certificates for entry-level positions, he said. And the hope is the learners continue with their education and acquire more stackable credentials that help propel them in their careers.

The cybersecurity certificate is especially welcoming news in northern Virginia, a national hub for IT companies that seek employees with cyber skills. Gov. Glenn Youngkin was at Thursday’s event to promote the new pathway, especially since it will lead to dual results: addressing a critical IT workforce shortage in Virginia and providing an affordable first step for those interested in an IT job or career.

Youngkin said he wants every high school student in the state to earn an industry-recognized credential by graduation and be prepared for the rigors of college-level work and careers.

“Schools like North Virginia Community College are partnering with extraordinary companies like Google to do just that: Preparing the next generation of Virginia students for careers in computer sciences,” said Youngkin, who also emphasized it is an opportunity for adult learners, military veterans and career changers, too.

“This is an opportunity for success. It’s successful, it’s attainable and it’s affordable,” he added.

Youngkin told CC Daily he would like to see more industry sectors open up to the idea of providing such first steps to careers by providing affordable, stackable certificates and other options that can lead to college degrees. Acquiring the initial skills for an entry-level job and having the opportunity to build on them is important in a skills-based world, he said.

“There are multiple pathways to success,” he said.

Growing stackable pathways

NOVA has partnered with Google on its IT education endeavors since 2019, when it started to offer the Google career certificate. More than 200 students have participated in the program, which helps students develop skill sets in high-growth fields like IT support, said Anne Kress, president of the college.

NOVA takes those industry-recognized credentials offered through Google and turns them into college credits. Students can earn as many as nine or 12 credit hours and apply them toward the requirements for an associate degree, Kress said.

“There is no wrong door in starting with these incredibly important and impactful certificates,” she said.

That path through NOVA helped Sandra Janet Alvarez, whose story Kress highlighted at the briefing. Even when she earned her college degree, Alvarez wasn’t certain about a career. She worked at a local school district as an instructional assistant but decided to take additional classes at NOVA, where she learned about the Google certificate program. It solidified that she wanted to work in IT. She is on track to earn her Google IT support certificate this summer.

Kress emphasized that the skills required for many in-demand jobs are rapidly changing, so it’s imperative for learners to be ready to acquire skills, update them and even re-skill throughout their careers.

“Those are the currencies for lifelong success,” she said.

But Kress said Alvarez did ponder why she didn’t know about these programs when she was in high school and even in college — something she feels would benefit other students who may be uncertain about their careers, too.

There’s more to the story! Read the full article in CC Daily.

Matthew Dembicki

edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.