Since 2003, Tymen Kuperus, IT teacher and project manager at Drenthe College in Emmen, Netherlands, has seen the impact a good, professionally oriented IT curriculum can have on young students. With a slightly different age range from a U.S. college, the students at Drenthe arrive at around age 15 or 16. And while Drenthe always encourages the students to go as far as they can in higher education, they also make it a priority to let students avail themselves of the career-building resources that will give them the best shot at professional success, whenever they head out into the job market.
"We're always connecting with other agencies or other schools, other interests so we keep an open mind for everything," Kuperus said.
In the Netherlands, it's relatively rare for schools to fold professional certifications into their academic curricula. But it's a practice Kuperus has been excited to spearhead. Having seen the unparalleled advantages that CompTIA certifications offer students early on in his teaching career, he's been working steadily to expand the use of them at Drenthe.
And as certifications continue to take on a more prominent role among Drenthe's IT offerings, CompTIA certifications may become part of the curriculum in a way that's completely unprecedented in secondary education in the Netherlands.
Getting Drenthe in the CompTIA Mindset
The students asked me if we could do CompTIA Network+ as well. They loved it so much that we went to the school board to ask if there was a bucket full of money to sponsor it from, and we found the bucket.
Kuperus began his career in education 25 years ago, teaching at a workforce program sponsored by an unemployment agency. Professional certifications were an obvious tool for getting people's skills quickly and effectively up to speed and making them suitable for the workforce. It was there that Kuperus first saw CompTIA stand out.
"I got acquainted with all of the certifications of CompTIA, and that's where I started," Kuperus said.
By the time Kuperus arrived at Drenthe, he already had CompTIA certifications in his teaching toolbox. And about seven years ago, while teaching Level 4 courses (the highest level of education the school offers, equivalent to a senior), he and his colleagues agreed that building the CompTIA A+ certification into the curriculum made sense. Those higher-level students now had an extra boost, provided by CompTIA.
As time went on, Drenthe's staff realized that there was more room to use CompTIA certifications. With more certification teaching resources becoming available in Dutch, and a growing appreciation for what an endorsement from CompTIA means to Holland's IT industry, expanding the certification offerings seemed like a critical next step.
So this year, Drenthe introduced the CompTIA A+ curriculum as a foundational part of the classroom experience for Level 1 IT students. Students had the opportunity to write the CompTIA A+ exam and, if they passed it, it would stand in place of the school's in-house exam.
The students who wrote the exam are already seeing the benefits.
CompTIA A+, Internships and Beyond
Mariëtte Sijbom, a student at Drenthe, has long used her computer for music and art projects. But she never explored what made the technology tick.
One day Sijbom's mother, who works in IT, decided to bring her along to the office.
There she saw that there was as much to know about the inner workings of a computer as there were things to use it for. The experience piqued Sijbom’s interest, and she decided to pursue IT at Drenthe.
Learning the CompTIA A+ curriculum gave her a clear framework for understanding how computers function. At the end of the semester she earned her CompTIA A+ certification.
Like Sijbom, Stefan Jilderda was a casual computer user when he arrived at Drenthe. A gamer, he often found himself deputized with computer repair duties when his family machine needed troubleshooting. As he began at Drenthe and got serious about CompTIA A+, he got increasingly excited at the prospect of becoming a network specialist.
"It got me deeper into the rabbit hole," Jilderda said. "It stuck ever since, and I'm loving it!"
The regimented logic of the CompTIA A+ curriculum set Jilderda up to learn IT basics. And as he embarked on his first internship in the field, his employers knew they had something special on their hands.
"They immediately knew we [CompTIA A+-certified interns] were in it to win it and not just fooling around," Jilderda said.
Fellow Drenthe classmate Tom Neijmeijer likewise thrived at his internship, seamlessly jumping into an IT support role at a local high school. Working in an IT internship, he was able to put what he learned to use immediately.
Certifications have already put him ahead of the game. While awareness of CompTIA certifications is still growing in the Netherlands, he's finding himself ahead of curve as he plans for more IT education and an eventual career in IT security.
"[Certifications are] becoming more and more vital for certain jobs," Neijmeijer said. "They show employers that employees really know their stuff."
Drenthe Students Demand: More CompTIA!
With their CompTIA A+'s earned and internships completed, Drenthe's Level 1 students enjoyed the IT certification experience so much that they requested to take the next step.
"The students asked me if we could do CompTIA Network+ as well," Kuperus said. "They loved it so much that we went to the school board to ask if there was a bucket full of money to sponsor it, and we found the bucket. So it's free of charge for the students at this time."
At the end of the semester, the Level 1 students wrote their CompTIA Network+ exams.
Slijbom, along with seven of her classmates, passed. And even as she's just getting started in her IT education, she sees having both certifications as positioning her well – academically and, eventually, when searching for jobs.
"It gives me a little extra on other applicants if I have my CompTIA certifications," Sijbom said.
Realizing the Impact, Tightening the Bonds
The IT job market in the Netherlands is growing, and companies are becoming ever more aware of just how much a CompTIA certification says about the IT pro who holds it. Drenthe's unique approach of offering professional certifications to students is paying off.
That's why Kuperus and Drenthe's IT program plan to implement certifications beyond CompTIA Network+ in the near future. For more advanced IT students, there may soon be CompTIA Security+ – and even the advanced CompTIA Linux+ – available.
And for Level 1 students, Kuperus foresees a day when the CompTIA A+ certifications will be mandatory for credit – so that every student coming through Level 1 will be certified before moving forward. Kuperus, on the professional end, is working to spread the word of just how much value CompTIA has for its students – and the companies that will someday hire them.
"I think most of the companies in the Netherlands would have heard of CompTIA," Kuperus said. "But [we are working to] make sure they know the importance."
Could your school's students benefit from CompTIA certifications? Watch our new Success in the Tech Economy video to learn the value of embedding it into your curriculum.
Matthew Stern is a freelance writer based in Chicago who covers information technology, retail and various other topics and industries.