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Apprentice Program Develops IT Skills 'To Go'

A national apprenticeship program combines classroom and on-the-job learning to develop skilled IT workers faster.

By Mary Brandel
November 3, 2003 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Yikes! Waldemar Ramos had just learned that the McDonald's Corp. marketing department needed a complete project plan within 30 days for an IT system supporting its new "I'm lovin' it" campaign.
"We didn't even have project requirements at that point," recalls Ramos, a project leader at McDonald's. Just the same, he was able to jump into action -- revising deliverables, figuring out the new requirements, calculating how the new priorities would affect other ongoing projects and drafting a revised statement of work. "The nice thing about it was we were able to meet the deadline, as well as complete the other projects," Ramos says.
Pretty impressive -- especially considering Ramos isn't even a full-fledged project manager and won't complete his training program until later this year. But this isn't your average IT training program, either.
In February, McDonald's launched an in-house apprenticeship program for IT project managers in collaboration with the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), a global trade association. Ramos and nine other McDonald's apprentices have been learning to become project managers via in-house classroom instruction and workshops, as well as meetings with peers and mentors.
Most important, they're simultaneously heading up actual -- and sometimes quite crucial -- projects, with budgets ranging in size from $50,000 to several hundred million dollars. One apprentice has led 10 projects since the program began. In order to complete the program, the apprentices must master 37 skills to their mentors' satisfaction.
"It responds to what employers are asking for -- a combination of knowledge, certification and experience," says Neill Hopkins, vice president of workforce development and training at CompTIA. "This is the first system of its kind to directly relate IT training and certifications with actual on-the-job skill validation."
Or, put another way, "We're taking their day-to-day work and using that as a context for learning," says Alice Rowland, manager of information services organization development at McDonald's in Oak Brook, Ill.
McDonald's apprenticeship program is one of six pilots that CompTIA is helping to administer as part of the National Information Technology Apprenticeship System. NITAS, which debuts in early November, is aimed at building skills and credentials in at least seven IT tracks, the first two of which are IT Generalist and Project Management. All of the apprenticeships are designed to accelerate the transformation of learning classroom theory to using on-the-job IT best practices.
The idea for NITAS actually dates back to September 2001, when the U.S. Department of Labor took an interest in a national apprenticeship program for IT. It chose CompTIA to administer the program and so far

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