Business & Finance
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Developing IT's Future

The U.S. Department of Labor has awarded a $2.8 million grant to nonprofit CompTIA to create IT apprenticeship programs for companies to develop their employees' IT skills.

At McDonald's Corp., improving IT projects is high on the menu of corporate goals. To help do that, McDonald's has created an apprenticeship program for prospective project managers, combining classroom theory, on-the-job learning, and support from mentors in hopes of improving project success rates.

"Our initial data is strongly indicating that the effort is leading to better results—projects being on time and on scope, and improved [internal] customer satisfaction," says Alice Rowland, McDonald's information systems organizational development manager, who leads the program, which began in February.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Labor awarded a $2.8 million grant to develop a National Information Technology Apprenticeship System, aimed at building skills and credentials around specific business-technology functions. The grant is being administered by an IT professional industry organization—the Computer Technology Industry Association, known as CompTIA—which is working with McDonald's and seven other companies on such apprenticeship programs.

The grant will let CompTIA build four career tracks—IT generalist, project manager, and security, plus one more to be chosen from four possibilities—that it considers prime for IT apprenticeships. It will also provide funding for implementing Web-based processing of applications and certification. During the next five years, CompTIA has committed to providing matching funds of nearly $3.8 million to develop the system's infrastructure, set skill standards and work processes, and develop marketing strategies to encourage large-scale private-sector adoption.

The Labor Department approached CompTIA two years ago about forming an apprenticeship program for the IT profession, which, compared with other industries, lacks formal industry apprenticeship programs to train and develop talent, says Neill Hopkins, CompTIA's VP of workforce development and training. The department awarded CompTIA a $550,000 grant for May 2001 through December 2002 to explore and assess whether apprenticeships would work in the IT industry and to develop one apprenticeship track for IT generalists.

Success with that program led the Labor Department to award a $475,000 second-round grant for July 2002 through December 2003 to develop additional apprenticeship tracks, including IT project management, and to test them in pilots sites such as McDonald's. CompTIA has applied for two more rounds of funding to complete the pilots and to develop and national IT apprenticeship system.

The 10 participants in McDonald's apprentice program have worked in project management at McDonald's from six months to four years and have committed to IT project management as a career track. The program also includes six mentors and three coaches—seasoned McDonald's managers. "I'm hoping to expand this first group of 10 apprentices to another group of 10 next year and the year after," Rowland says.

As part of McDonald's program, the company maps its apprentice capabilities to the CompTIA IT Project+ certification standard, which emphasizes best practices as defined by IT industry project-management experts.

While participating in the McDonald's program, apprentices continue working their regular assignments within the company, which can include projects such as software testing and maintenance, Rowland says. She envisions people spending one to two years in the program. They attend classes and meet regularly with their peers and mentors with an eye on 37 criteria or job qualifications they need for project leadership levels. Rowland says participants take tests or get sign-offs from mentors as they reach these milestones.

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