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6/20/2003
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McDonald's Adds To IT Menu

Apprentices in project management are part of federally funded effort for I.T. skills development

At McDonald's, 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.

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

The grant lets CompTIA build four career tracks--IT generalist, project manager, and security, plus one more that will be chosen from three possibilities--that it considers prime for IT apprenticeships. It also will provide funding for implementing Web-based processing of applications and certification. Over the next five years, CompTIA has committed to provide matching funds of nearly $3.8 million to develop the system's infrastructure, skill standards and work processes, and 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 develop talent, says Neill Hopkins, CompTIA VP of workforce development and training. The department awarded CompTIA a grant of $550,000 through December 2002 to assess whether apprenticeships would work in the IT industry and to develop one apprenticeship track for the IT generalist. Success with that led the Labor Department to award a $475,000 second-round grant through December 2003 to develop additional apprenticeship tracks, including IT project management, and to test them in pilot sites such as McDonald's. The latest Labor Department funding will allow it to expand on these efforts.

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.

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 program, apprentices will continue working their regular assignments, which can include projects such as software testing and maintenance, Rowland says.

Rowland envisions people spending one to two years in the program. They attend classes and meet regularly with their peers and mentors with an eye toward 37 criteria or job qualifications they need for project-leadership levels. Participants take tests or get "sign-offs" from mentors as they reach these milestones. McDonald's expects the program to grow. Says Rowland: "I'm hoping to expand this first group of 10 apprentices to another group of 10 next year, and the year after."

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