Can Entry-Level Certs Help Dislocated Workers?

IowaWORKS wants to retrain displace workers for IT jobs.

On April 7, the State of Iowa issued a press release announcing "…New Tech Training Opportunity for Dislocated Workers.” That press release is worth reading in its entirety, but here are the highlights:

1) IowaWORKS, the state’s employment arm, has partnered with JobWorks Education and Training Systems to “create an accelerated pathway toward a career in information technology.”

2) A 12-week course “designed to be flexible” targets Iowans “who have lost employment through no fault of their own.” It culminates with candidates earning A+ and IT Fundamentals certs from CompTIA.

3) Beth Townsend, Director of Iowa Workforce Development, says, “It’s no secret that IT professionals are a highly sought-after talent base. The programs helps give dislocated workers a skillset and a quick turnaround into a promising career.”

4) Each program participant receives a free laptop. Those who complete the likewise free training can keep that equipment. Noteworthy: “IowaWORKS career planners will help guide participants through the course and ensure they have the support necessary to be job-ready. Iowa currently has more than 2,500 IT-related job openings.”

5) New cohorts for the program start up monthly. Information is available through local IowaWORKS offices, via e-mail or by phone (see the press release for e-mail and phone info).

I think this program looks great on paper. And it sounds like a pretty good deal for those lucky enough to find themselves a place in this program. I have to ask, however, “How many of those 2,500 IT jobs in Iowa will be open to somebody with 12 weeks of training and A+ and IT Fundamentals+ certifications from CompTIA?"

Why Help Dislocated or Displaced Workers?

I found a good discussion of these terms online that puts the question into context: “Dislocated workers are individuals who have lost their jobs due to a layoff. Also known as displaced workers, they've experienced job loss due to circumstances beyond their control. Workers who are terminated due to unsatisfactory job performance are not considered displaced workers.” (Source: The Balance Careers, July 2020).

IowaWORKS wants to retrain displace workers for IT jobs.

Obviously, the state’s idea is to help laid-off workers, or those who’ve lost jobs because of company failures or moves, move into new jobs with a minimum of life and work disruption. I can’t fault their motives or their notion that retraining could help lead such folks into a new line of work that’s more likely to persist and promote lifetime career tracks and development.

One more thing: I’m immensely cheered to read that IowaWORKS supports program participants with career planners. I sincerely hope that guidance is helpful and actually does produce “job-ready” candidates at the end of the program.

For those reasons, I would expect such guidance to include help with résumés, interviewing skills, job search tools and techniques, and — where possible — actual assistance with job placement. At a minimum, that should include helping candidates to find potential employers, as well as steering them through the application process and at least a first round of interviews.

What About Those IT Jobs?

The press release mentions 2,500 IT-related job openings in Iowa. I tried using the IowaWORKS job search page (a sample screen grab from my searching is included below). I was not immensely cheered by a plethora of relevant and intelligible responses.

IowaWORK job search tool screen grab

Source: IowaWORKS

Using “IT professional” as a search string for job titles produced no useful results, nor did “network administrator,” “IT administrator,” “system administrator,” “help desk,” “tech support,” and the like. And indeed, though I was able to find numerous IT-related job positions using the search tool, none of them were entry-level positions.

Everything I look at required what I would call mid-career levels of expertise and experience, either with specific skill sets and tools (e.g. SQL server or SAS) or with various platforms and programming languages (e.g. Visual Studio, GitHub, C++, Java and so on).

Working the System Requires Understanding the System

IowaWORKS wants to retrain displace workers for IT jobs.

I can only hope that IowaWORKS does have prospective placements for people who go through a 12-week program. They will undoubtedly learn some stuff and walk away with new skills and knowledge. But their expectations will also be raised, and it would be cruel to have them dashed after taking a 3-month timeout, working hard, and hoping for not just hourly work, but genuine career potential.

I’m concerned that it might not be enough to make that happen. Perhaps it would be better to go 24 weeks, and throw in a Network+ or Security+ as well? The best possible outcome for dislocated workers is to end their dislocation, find them a safe harbor, and offer genuine prospects for smooth sailing going forward.

Can A+ and IT Fundamentals enable those things? I sincerely hope so, but the data I was able to extract from the job search function at least suggests that it may be a good start, but not enough to get folks into good jobs. I’ll be digging into completion and placement data from this and other programs, and will revisit this topic in a follow-up story. Stay tuned!

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About the Author

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran who's worked as a software developer, technical marketer, consultant, author, and researcher. Author of many books and articles, Ed also writes on certification topics for Tech Target, ComputerWorld and Win10.Guru. Check out his website at www.edtittel.com, where he also blogs daily on Windows 10 and 11 topics.