REDMOND, Wash., November 24, 1998 — In the early 1990s, Chris Gradwohl decided it was time to switch professions. He was working in commercial real estate and, while the money was good, he was growing increasingly disillusioned with his work. The challenge was to make a career move that didn’t mean a long-term cut in earning power. The answer was information technology. He started by earning a Novell certification, but when Windows NT 3.5 was released, he decided that Microsoft technologies were the way to go. “I saw that a real paradigm shift was about to occur,” he recalls. “It looked like there was going to be greater demand in the Microsoft arena as companies made the move to NT Server.”
Gradwohl enrolled at Infotec, a Microsoft Certified Technical Education Center (Microsoft CTEC) in Bellevue, Wash., where he completely immersed himself in his studies. “I set up a network in my garage and basically locked myself in,” he says. “My wife just threw food and coffee into the room and left me alone.”
That was back in 1995, and Gradwohl’s timing was impeccable. He entered a job market in which companies were already beginning to compete for good computer people. With his credential as a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, he found a job immediately. The company that hired him, Infotec, brought him on as a Microsoft Certified Trainer.
Companies may have been competing for skilled computer people three years ago, but at least they could find them. Today, demand has so far outstripped supply that hundreds of thousands of highly paid jobs are going unfilled. “We believe it’s a crisis,” says Lauren Brownstein, vice president for workforce development at the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA).
Microsoft’s own research reveals the depth of the problem. A survey of the company’s business partners and customers found that current and projected information technology (IT) job openings combined will total 647,000 before the end of 1999. Two of every five companies surveyed reported that they had experienced delays in completing information technology projects because of a lack of skilled workers; nearly one in five said that they had actually cancelled projects because of the IT workforce shortage.
But if this shortage is a bane to business, it is an incredible opportunity for people who are willing to invest time and effort in learning new skills. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that information technology workers can expect to earn an annual salary of $52,500, about 30 percent more than the average American worker with a four-year college degree. As for job placement, Gradwohl reports that there is no danger of supply catching up to demand any time soon. “Whenever I get an IT manager in a class,” he says, “they leave me a card and say, ‘if anybody good comes through your class, please give me a call right away.’ ”
Knowledge and Experience for IT Professionals
Established in 1993, the Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) program has become one of the largest and most widely respected certification programs in the computer industry. With its carefully designed curriculum taught by trained and certified instructors and its rigorous performance-based testing, the program provides people with the knowledge and experience they need to be productive, and gives companies a reliable way to measure the skills of the people they are hiring. To date, more than 300,000 people have earned at least one certification through the Microsoft Certified Professional program.
The MCP program offers eight certifications. For people interested in gaining expertise in a particular Microsoft product, Microsoft offers the Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) credential. To earn a MCP certification, students must prove that they have the ability to perform a set of job-function-based skills with a single Microsoft product by passing one certification exam. IT professionals who can install and configure server products, manage server resources, extend servers to run CGI scripts or ISAPI scripts, monitor and analyze performance and trouble-shoot problems can earn a Microsoft Certified Professional+Internet certificate.
Microsoft offers more advanced certification for people who have already achieved a high level of skill in the field. The Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) credential is for network professionals who implement, maintain and support information systems running on an NT server network operating system utilizing the Microsoft BackOffice family of integrated server products. A Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer+Internet certification is for IT professionals who work on sophisticated intranet and Internet solutions or who manage and analyze Web sites. To earn a MCSE+Internet credential, a student must pass seven operating system exams and two elective exams. In contrast, the Microsoft Certified Professional+Internet certificate requires three exams.
For developers, Microsoft offers the Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD) credential. Developers who earn a MCSD are qualified to create desktop and Internet applications as well as multi-tier, distributed and COM-based solutions. To help meet the increasing demand for Microsoft’s SQL Server Platform, there is also the Microsoft Certified Database Administrator certification, Microsoft’s newest certification launched in mid-November. A Microsoft Certified Professional+Site Building is for people who want to build, manage and maintain Web sites that include multimedia and searchable content as well as Web sites that connect to and communicate with a back-end database.
In addition, Microsoft offers a Microsoft Certified Trainer credential, awarded to those who are certified technically by Microsoft to deliver Microsoft Official Curriculum instructor-led courses for Microsoft Certified Technical Education Centers.
Training People the Way They Want to Learn
According to Nancy Lewis, Microsoft’s training and certification general manager, one of Microsoft’s most important goals in developing IT professionals’ skills on Microsoft products and technologies is to provide as wide a range of study options as possible. “Our whole strategy is to train people the way they want to learn at a price point that they can afford,” she explains.
For highly motivated learners ready to challenge themselves by studying on their own, Microsoft offers self-paced training through its Independent Courseware Vendor channel, MS Press and The Mastering Series. Another flexible training choice is online instruction. Online training provides 24-hour-a-day access to a broad range of training materials. These online classes allow students to work from their own computers at their own pace in virtual classrooms, often with easy access to online instructors.
More traditional learning is available through instructor-led classroom training at Microsoft Authorized Academic Training Programs (AATPs) and at Microsoft CTECs. High schools, colleges and universities participating in AATP help full-time and part-time students gain professional-level proficiency in Microsoft products and technologies. There are currently more than 1,000 sites worldwide.
One such program is offered by Jackson Hole High School in Wyoming, where a unique pilot program was launched in January 1998. Developed with Microsoft, the program offers comprehensive workforce training based on the needs of the computer industry. Already, more than 50 students have taken courses through the program including nine who studied Windows NT-based networking. In June, seven of the nine took their first Microsoft Certified Professional exam and passed.
One unexpected benefit of the program is that it has helped Jackson Hole High School reach students who have never responded well to classroom learning. “Some of these kids aren’t in the elite of their class,” says Jim Meacham, who teaches the Microsoft networking class. “But with this program, we’re reaching them in a way we never could before – and they are responding.”
For people already in the workforce, studying with a Microsoft Certified Trainer at a Microsoft CTEC is perfect, says Gradwohl, the CTEC graduate. “If you are really interested, go to a Microsoft CTEC, where you are totally immersed in Microsoft training with Microsoft Official Curriculum, followed by a Microsoft certification exam,” he explains. “You’ll get great hands-on experience, mentored by an expert in a managed environment with all pieces in place.”
Microsoft CTECs offer a variety of training options, including online, self-paced and instructor-led courses. These options can be customized for a total training solution to fit the specific needs of students. One of these solutions includes hybrid training – combining more than one training option for a specific course. In 1998, the program involved more than 900 training centers in North America with more than 1,900 centers worldwide.
A MCP certification helps individuals get the most out of their investment in training, and it also allows companies to maximize their return on investment in people by helping them ensure that employees are at the top of their profession. “It helps separate the wheat from chaff,” says Ross Johnson, Microsoft solution manager for SHL Systemhouse, an international network consulting company with 11,000 employees. “It shows that someone has the discipline to learn and to pass a set of exams, and it assures us that they have achieved a certain level of expertise.” According to Johnson, SHL has made Microsoft certification an important stepping stone in the company’s hiring process.
Companies with Microsoft-certified employees are finding that they get the most out of their investment in technology as well. A recent study conducted for Microsoft by International Data Corp. found that Microsoft Certified Professionals are more productive than their uncertified colleagues, handling 43 percent more help desk requests and reducing IT department costs by an average of $2,530 per server each year.
“Utilizing Microsoft Certified Professionals simply makes us more valuable in the marketplace,” says Johnson. “It means our customers get people with better skills who have a better understanding of the technology, while we get employees who can provide better services. It’s a total win-win-win situation.”
Training for Non-Traditional IT Workers
With the workforce shortage continuing to plague the IT profession, Microsoft has been working to expand the reach and scope of its training programs. One of the most innovative additions is the Microsoft Skills 2000 initiative. Launched in 1997, the initiative aims to expand the pool of skilled workers by targeting people who are underrepresented in the industry, such as men and women over age 55 and people with disabilities.
Microsoft started the Skills 2000 initiative in response to requests from Microsoft Certified Solution Providers (MCSPs) that told the company the shortage of skilled people had become a critical bottleneck. “Microsoft executive management listened to channel partners who said that their biggest barrier to growth was the inability to hire skilled people,” says Karen Steckler, group manager for the Microsoft Skills 2000 initiative. “We built new and additional training programs around their request.”
To help interest new people in careers in IT, the Skills 2000 Web site offers an online aptitude assessment test that helps people understand how their work preferences match specific job categories in the industry. The site then offers resources for gaining access to training, financial assistance and internships. “Our goal is to help people understand where they fit in and then help them overcome the barriers to entering the IT field,” Steckler says.
Finding money to pay for training can be one of the toughest barriers facing Skills 2000’s target audience. Last February, Skills 2000 teamed up with Servus Financial Corporation of Herndon, Va., to launch a new loan program designed to make it easier for people to finance IT job skills training. Microsoft and Servus Financial hoped to provide about $1 million in training loans during the program’s first six months. Instead, Servus handed out more than $4 million in the first six weeks. At the end of six months, that total had climbed past $70 million.
The overwhelming success of the loan program is further proof of the huge demand for skilled IT workers, Steckler says. She says that outreach initiatives like Skills 2000, backed by the kind of comprehensive training offered through Microsoft’s training programs are a good model for meeting that demand. “The workforce shortage has become the biggest barrier limiting growth and prosperity in the IT industry,” she says. “Microsoft now offers an approach that starts with people just getting started in the tech arena and continues for individuals at every stage of their IT career. Our goal is to bring new people into the industry while providing those who are already there with the ongoing training they need to improve their skills and keep up with advances in technology.”
According to Brownstein of the ITAA, Microsoft is succeeding. “The company has been a real leader in the industry,” she says. “Programs like Skills 2000 have accomplished tremendous things for the industry and for American workers. The way Microsoft has helped everyone from older workers to community colleges to channel partners is really tremendous.”