COLUMBIA — A few dozen unemployed Columbia residents will have the chance to enroll in a job training program for entry level computer programmers next summer if the program remains in City Manager Mike Matthes' proposed budget for fiscal 2013.
Regional Economic Development Inc. proposed the program, which would train unemployed residents for help desk and web development jobs. The program would be funded by $32,500 in Community Development Block Grant money, which is intended to benefit people with low to moderate incomes.
The training program would start next summer. Twenty-four people will be selected to participate. According to the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, the 2011 median wage for information technology jobs was $26.86 per hour.
REDI Director Mike Brooks said the program is intended to address a need.
"It started with an understanding that technology-based companies here need web programmers and IT workers," Brooks said. "There is a demand."
MT Meridian CEO Peter Meng confirmed that.
"There is a shortage of programmers to create the next-generation services for the Internet," Meng said. "The problem is particularly severe in Columbia, with the entry of major IT players like IBM and all the new technology startups that are being created."
"There is a huge demand for IT workers who have new skills, " Meng said. "I talked to many companies in town, and they agree with me."
REDI will work with Central Missouri Community Action and the Columbia Area Career Center on the project. It will help participants find jobs after they finish the training, but it can't guarantee employment.
"We will do anything we can to assist them to find jobs," Brooks said, adding that some people who complete the courses might be interested in starting their own businesses.
Central Missouri Community Action will assess whether people are qualified for the training program.
"Their ability is to help us identify potential candidates for the program," Brooks said. "First, the candidates should meet the income eligibility standards."
Central Missouri Community Action will interview potential candidates and determine whether they are eligible to participate in the training program.
"We will complete interest and aptitude screening for each applicant to ensure proper fit for the area of computer technical fields," the agency's career center manager, Deanne Stubblefield, said.
The Columbia Area Career Center will provide the actual training. Jim Sharrock, supervisor of adult education at career center, said the career center worked with teachers to decide which skills the classes should cover and how long the training should last.
The help desk training program will prepare students to perform basic programming skills. There are four essential parts of the help desk track, which will involve 144 hours of instruction. Course content designed by the career center includes:
- A+ certification: This includes lectures, discussions and practices regarding personal computer components, printers and scanners, information security, operation systems and so on. The class will prepare students for the CompTIA Certification exam, which tests the competency of computer technicians.
- HTML skills: Students will learn HyperText Markup Language (HTML), which is the primary system of codes for displaying pages on the World Wide Web.
- Microsoft Office Suite This course will introduce Office products such as Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Access that are used in most office settings. It will prepare students for the Microsoft Office Specialist Certification exam.
- Customer service and soft skills: Students will learn communication, resume writing, interviewing and other skills.
The web-development training will focus on five primary skill sets and involve 180 total hours of instruction. It will include the A+ Certification, HTML and customer service courses, plus:
- PHP instruction: Students will get an overview of the Hypertext Preprocessor, which is a server-side scripting language designed for web development. Students will conclude the course with a PHP certification.
- Computer language instruction: Students will learn Ruby and Python, which are two languages useful for web development.
Whether the program will continue after its first year is not sure yet.
Brooks said whether the program will continue depends on whether there is a demand and whether there is an opportunity to get more funding for the project. They will evaluate the results of the program, then decide whether to apply a training program for 2014 or not.
"We may apply a funding for a different kind of training for 2014," Brooks said. "Maybe there is an area that needs training more than this one."
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