The Promise of a Workforce Trifecta: An Innovative Way To Address the IT Professional Skills GapEdythe M. Abdullah | Dean of the Division of Continuing Education, University of North Florida
University professional and continuing education divisions are committed to being responsive to workforce and economic development demands. Different from university colleges, continuing education divisions must be nimble as well as provide a quality learning experience that leads to positive career outcomes. Without both elements in its programming, the division fails, its revenues dwindle, and the university’s reputation is tarnished.
One challenge facing continuing education is how to meet emerging workforce demands for highly skilled IT professionals. Moreover, when pent-up demand is enormous, as it is for software developers and cybersecurity workers, launching a top-notch program quickly is paramount.
Tech is booming, and the demand for tech workers far exceeds the supply. There are nearly 900,000 coding and cybersecurity jobs available today. Unfortunately, only 70,000 individuals graduated with computer science degrees in the U.S. this year. Today’s employers are seeking workers who have degrees and credentials—or just technical credentials, if the credential yields highly skilled individuals who are prepared to meet the rigors of a dynamic IT workplace.
In Jacksonville, the timing is just right for coding and cybersecurity bootcamps. Having just received a federal grant to support the development of a high-tech Bay Street Innovation Corridor, the demand for tech workers will far exceed the current supply. Additionally, Jacksonville was named one of the top-five tech markets in the U.S. by Forrester Research, making it ripe for academic and professional workforce education and training programs. Finally, the jobs available to graduates of the right training programs offer a median salary in the $60,000 to $70,000 range. We call this a high-tech, high-demand and high-wage economic development opportunity—a workforce trifecta.
Developing and implementing IT programs can be costly, requiring IT experts, program development lead time, production of a hands-on learning curriculum, and delivery of a content-rich, outcomes-based program. While collaborating with the university’s College of Computing is a preferred approach, what do you do when the college faces its own challenges of meeting demand for revised and new IT degree programs? Realizing we could miss an opportunity to meet employer demand for skilled workers, we set out to identify a partner who could provide an exceptional turn-key learning solution.
There is a plethora of vendors willing to collaborate with a university to provide IT training. Selecting the right partner requires a deep dive into a variety of vendor characteristics, beyond merely asking, “Do they offer your program of interest?”
The questions we asked included:
- Are the provider’s values in sync with ours and the university’s?
- What is the vendor’s reputation among similar providers?
- What do students say about the vendor? Does the vendor’s instructional approach support student success?
- Would our university’s computer science faculty approve the curriculum?
- Are their instructors’ experts?
- Who is the provider’s other higher education partners and what do they say about the vendor?
- What is the preferred student admission and marketing relationship?
- What is the partnership’s commercial structure?
- What do employers say about the quality of hired students?
- What is the job placement rate for the vendor’s students?
- Does the vendor exhibit integrity and ethical behavior?
We asked these questions and more about Fullstack, our coding and cybersecurity bootcamp partner at the University of North Florida’s Division of Continuing education.
For UNF, Fullstack Academy proved to be the right partner at the right time to meet the demands of our region. Fullstack is one of the longest-running and most successful bootcamp providers in the nation, with bootcamps in New York, Chicago, San Diego and San Luis Obispo. They also partner with universities to offer bootcamps. Their turn-key approach and commitment to entering a collaboration that speaks to the needs of our region were very attractive. Their mission and approach to student learning and success aligned with ours. And students reported that the quality and content was excellent.
Before partnering, Fullstack thoroughly researched market demand, top employers and the viability of UNF as a partner. The caliber of the instructors they select is unsurpassed. Additionally, Fullstack’s 81% job placement rate within 180 days of graduation was an important factor in selecting them as a vendor. Finally, it was clear Fullstack was our best choice from how ethical and integrous they were in their interactions with us.
Finding the right vendor whose quality and values are in sync with your continuing education unit is a difficult task. Vendors who will collaborate on branding, IT security, and other university policies and requirements, are crucial to building effective partnerships. When the stakes are high and the opportunity extraordinary, a deliberate analysis of the risk and benefits of working with a vendor is well worth it. Once we established our vendor prerequisites, the decision was an easy one to make. The result: our first cohort of 31 students.
A superb decision for our workforce trifecta.
Author Perspective: Administrator