Mile-High Opportunity

Oracle teams with Colorado School District to provide training.

by Kate Pavao, May 2009

Even as many industries are predicted to shrink in 2009, the technology sector is marked for growth. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that IT analysts, administrators, and engineers are projected to be among the 30 fastest-growing occupations over the next seven years.

That’s why when Colorado’s Douglas County School District opened the doors to its Expert Technician Academy (ETA) in August 2008, computer and technology courses made up the bulk of its initial offering. Partially funded through a U.S. Department of Labor Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development (WIRED) grant, ETA offers classes to both high school students and adults in computer repair, network security, and Oracle technology to help prepare them for job opportunities in the IT sector. In the adult program, participants can earn credit toward the Oracle certifications needed for many entry-level IT jobs. They can also earn 12 credits toward an associate’s degree in applied science.

Encouraging students to earn degrees is a big part of ETA’s goals. Coordinator Susan Meek says that while Colorado ranks among the top five states in terms of degree holders per capita, it’s in the nation’s bottom 25 percent when it comes to students earning college degrees. It’s this phenomenon, known as the “Colorado Paradox,” that ETA is working to offset with accelerated training programs that promote both industry certification and college degrees.

For example, high school students who start courses in their junior year could earn up to 48 college credits by the time they graduate from high school—enough credits to be more than two-thirds of the way to their associate’s degree. The rapid pace of the program also helps open doors for students to pursue higher-level degrees.

ETA opened in the technology center of Legend High School in Parker, Colorado, with 50 adult learners, who attend classes on evenings and Saturdays. High school students can participate in a recently introduced pilot program that allows them to take Oracle classes during the school day. Because Oracle is in very high demand in the region, Oracle classes were available from Day One. “We believe it would provide great earning potential for individuals going through our program,” Meek says.

ETA also encourages business professionals to visit the classes and see the training firsthand. Local companies have recruited some students for internships, and Meek says the district hopes to grow this aspect of the program, “so that ETA’s business partners will offer students guaranteed interviews when they have openings.”

ETA plans to expand its Oracle course offerings this fall when it introduces an official Oracle Academy program. The Oracle Academy provides free software, curriculum, and certification resources to high schools, vocational schools, colleges, and universities. Oracle Academy Senior Marketing Director Denise Hobbs says that ETA is a natural fit with Oracle Academy, because it shares the same goals. “The Oracle Academy program is unique in that it helps produce an immediately qualified workforce while also preparing students for future academic success. Students who complete the Oracle Academy can obtain industry-level certifications immediately transferable into the workforce or go on to pursue two- or four-year degrees or master-level degrees.”

Looking back at all that the ETA has accomplished, Meek realizes that it has taken a great deal of energy as well as cooperation and flexibility among all those involved, including the Douglas County School District; the Douglas County Educational Foundation; Arapahoe Community College; Arapahoe/Douglas Works!, a local workforce center; and Oracle. It has been worth it, she says, “not only because it has helped students in Douglas County but also because similar trainings will reach other students in Colorado.” The district is presently developing a best-practices model to make the program easily replicable. “We’re looking to work with our partners to roll this model out,” Meek says, “not only across our own school district but across our region.”

Kate Pavao is a freelance writer based in Northern California and a frequent contributor to Profit.

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