Toronto is home to a booming IT economy. But for a segment of Toronto’s population, the burgeoning entry-level IT job market is often out of reach. Young people coming from lower-income households often don’t have the financial resources to avail themselves of the traditional channels for IT education, limiting their chances in the job market. But since its inception two years ago, NPower Canada has been providing an entry point for these young people into the IT world through intensive instruction, career guidance and CompTIA certification. Andrew Reddin, regional director, greater Toronto area at NPower Canada, has seen how in a short period of time, his company has allowed young people in such situations to discover, build and explore their tech talents and move into the IT workforce.
“[NPower students] really have a strong work ethic,” Reddin said. “These are kids who often worked throughout high school and took care of siblings – even took care of parents or grandparents with various health issues. They work really hard and have a really positive attitude but just haven’t been given the type of opportunities that kids from more prosperous households have.”
Launched in 2014 as an extension of longstanding U.S.-based IT support and training non-profit NPower, NPower Canada offers its students two potential streams of study; a service analyst stream, which has students pursue CompTIA A+ and other industry certifications, and a newly-created mobile-oriented stream. In each stream, students receive 15 to 17 weeks of intensive IT training. In addition to the technical training, NPower trains students on workplace communication and other soft skills, evaluates their professional strengths and uses that to guide the students into the type of internship – and job – that will best suit their abilities.
The model is proving both popular and successful. NPower Canada’s first class began in 2014 and graduated in May 2015 with 24 graduates. The following month, the program doubled in size and achieved gender parity, with women making up 50 percent of the class. In February, the second class graduated 43 students, and NPower Canada anticipates graduating 80 to 90 young adults with CompTIA A+ in 2016.
NPower Canada aims for getting 80 percent of students either employed in IT or enrolled in post-secondary IT education within six months of graduation. But the first few rounds of graduates at NPower Canada have exceeded the organization’s own metrics for success. From the first class, 88 percent reached the organization’s benchmark within five months of graduation. From the second, 91 percent were either working in IT or enrolled in post-secondary education within just six weeks.
NPower Canada has been spreading the word with help from local non-profits and government agencies, and they’ve also been building an IT community all their own. Members of the former graduating classes have dropped by to chat with the current class and discuss their work in the industry. NPower Canada encourages this sense of connectedness, remaining in close contact with former students and even facilitating the creation of WhatsApp groups to let their working graduates continue to learn with – and from – one another.
The feedback NPower Canada have gotten from their students speaks to the value of both IT education and CompTIA certification. Those in entry-level positions have reported that holding a CompTIA A+ certification imparts a sense of comfort and confidence walking in the door. And just as CompTIA A+ gives an entry-level IT professional confidence in his or her own skills, Reddin said that it gives the employer confidence as well.
“It’s really huge,” Reddin said. “It lends credibility to the candidate. Employers value knowing this person is up to speed on the latest technologies [and] really has that validation from the industry; that they are ready to hit the ground running in the role.”
And many have done just that. In a short period of time, the organization has already seen some graduates rising from the entry-level positions up through the IT world. NPower Canada continues to look for new ways to facilitate their professional goals. The organization plans to create new streams of study, with cybersecurity and data analytics courses possibly in the offing. The organization is considering what to teach in each stream, and are looking at other industry standard-setting certifications from CompTIA as potential resources to utilize.
As NPower continues to create IT success stories, the students will continue to benefit from both the skills CompTIA certifications teach and the character they exhibit.
Reddin said, “[CompTIA A+] tells the employer this person is able to show commitment, follow through and achieve something like the CompTIA certification, which demands a lot of focus and study.”
Matthew Stern is a freelance writer based in Chicago who covers information technology, retail and various other topics and industries.