Middle East visit part two: IT skills becoming as valued as oil refining

The second part of my recent Middle East trip focused on Kuwait and Dubai. It was fair to say that my colleagues and I were a tad nervous about visiting Kuwait. We’d heard a lot of contradicting stories about the country, and other Gulf States, due to its past, but we chose to keep an open mind.

I’m glad we did. We landed late in the evening and were surprised by the modern and friendly feel to the place. Apart from the chaos at the airport, it was a refreshing country. Most of the centre of the city has been rebuilt in the last decade and the people were so friendly.

We were picked up at our hotel by our partner, Lifelong, who arranged all the meetings for the day. Our first meeting was with the Public Authority for Applied Education & Training (PAAET), with discussions focusing on a CTT+ pilot, which is now live. The meeting went well. There was a funny moment in the car when Bassel, our driver and Business Development Manager for Lifelong, confirmed he thought a full roll out would happen. I do like an optimistic sales person, but a more cautious approach was adopted by us!

For the second meeting we visited the Institute of Banking Studies (IBS), an influential body responsible for training in all of Kuwait’s banks. IBS train 4,000 students annually, so we were pleased our discussions on how to empower IBS to deliver relevant training programs were well received.

Next up, arguably one of the most important meetings of the trip – a visit to the Central Authority for IT (CAIT). This organisation is responsible for all government IT tenders. CAIT is a big supporter of CompTIA’s programs, so we were delighted to come away from the meeting with plans to hold joint events and an agreement to improve marketing to our partners. All in all, a very productive meeting.

Our final Kuwait visit saw us take in the Gulf University for Science and Technology (GUST). The campus for this university is a new building and very impressive. It is more like one of Google’s offices than a university. It hosts 3000 students and has been a traditional university but now recognises the need to include international vendor exams for its students. With security being the hot topic there, my colleague Mark Plunkett gave an excellent presentation of what CompITA can offer. The outcome: GUST were blown away (sorry!) and will join our CAPP program and start using CompTIA Project +. Great results. Next stop, Dubai…

Etisalat is one of the largest telecoms providers in Dubai, commanding annual revenues of $8b. More importantly, they are a CompTIA partner. A positive meeting yielded many benefits for us. They are planning an event to promote their CompTIA partner status to their customers and I have agreed to speak at their next event on the 16th May. Additionally, Etisalat are scheduling CompTIA courses and promoting them to their internal and external clients; we agreed to assist where possible.

Our next meeting was with one of the more colorful characters in the region, Samer, who runs Vision training in Kuwait. He has some very interesting discussions going on with the Kuwaiti army and the University of Kuwait. He is also working with our friends at CAIT. The Kuwaiti army is very positive about having their people certified and are strong advocates of CompTIA, A+, N+ and Sec+. Another positive meeting for us.

Finally, our last meeting with REI was probably the funniest. This is a new prospect looking to join our program and our contact proceeded to tell us all about his challenges in hosting CompTIA courses. He then went on to tell us why he should join the program, as if justifying to himself! The outcome was that he is going to join the CAPP program and host our training in Abu Dhabi. Result!

Apart from very beneficial meetings, the time we spent networking was very rewarding. It was becoming apparent as we spoke to more and more customers, partners and prospects that the IT profession was starting to be talked about as being as important as the oil industry in the region. The key to developing such professionals, according to those we spoke to, was recognised training and certifications. We worked hard during our Middle East visit, but the reward was hearing how CompTIA is well respected and seen as leading the way in skilling up the workforce for the IT industry to grow in the region.

Middle East visit part one: riots, Bahrain and Oman

My recent visit to the Middle East to meet CompTIA partners - and to review how IT training and certification is managed - proved to be very informative and enjoyable.

On our arrival in Bahrain we learnt that there had been riots. We were naturally a little worried, but persevered. We met up with Frank Moralis, Managing Director of the National Institute of Technology (NIT), and training partner.

Frank is enthusiastic about his work and set up several meetings for us. We met with the Royal University for Women. This was a successful appointment, leading to us agreeing to support an awareness day for the University. This event will aim to demonstrate the clear benefits of careers in IT for women.

Next up was the University of Bahrain, with over 2,500 students currently studying IT at the campus. CompTIA’s output is very much embedded into its curriculum, but both parties agreed that we need ongoing collaboration to promote exams. A challenge we’re looking forward to tackle together.

Following this meeting, it was time to meet with one of our oldest partners – the Bahrain Training Institute (BTI). We agreed on activity that will increase their CompTIA offering, ensuring we stay one step ahead of the competition. Next up, Oman…

Our first meeting was with the Ministry of Education (MoE). The Ministry has certified a lot of their internal staff and our discussions centred on the introduction of Security + and Cloud Essentials. We discussed the culture of why students are reluctant to take exams - it is the fear of failure. We hope to roll out further programs and initiatives in the future that will help address this issue. The sort of positive challenge we embrace.

Meetings with Polygot and New Horizons followed. The outcome was future support pledged to create awareness of what we do for the former, and further development work agreed for the latter. Next up, talks with our partner Khimji, who represents brands such as Proctor and Gamble and Rolex. A productive meeting led to a promise of an appointment with the Ministry of Manpower.

Our third day in Oman saw us visiting the Information Technology Authority (ITA). The role of the ITA is delivering best practice across all aspects of government IT. A very productive meeting led to a future meeting with MOE (see above) to discuss its IT educational curriculum. Our involvement with ITA will hopefully allow us to shape industry collaboration, training and certification in Oman in the future. A real positive meeting here – as well as the highlight of the trip for me.

Following ITA, we visited the Ministry of Health (MoH) with our partners Polyglot. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss our HIT certification and its benefits to MoH’s activity. The outcome: agreement to construct a certification program, starting with A+. This was a great meeting and many thanks to Polyglot for facilitating the meeting.

Our final meeting in Oman saw us visit our partner, the International Information Technology co. LLC (IITC). The organisation covers markets including telecoms, marine, petroleum and of course IT. They have a rich history and claim to have brought Microsoft to Oman! IITC also commented on the ‘fear of failure’ exam culture, so we need to work with them to develop awareness campaigns to address this issue. Again, this was a challenge, but a positive one for the future. IITC are a great partner and we look forward to a very productive relationship.

Be sure to check out my second Middle East blog, coming soon, where I visit Kuwait and Dubai, and find out that the IT industry is matching the oil industry in terms of importance and kudos.

Why IT training and certifications are worth their weight in gold

Picture the scene: a management team is meeting to discuss what company expenditure is justifiable before they send their final thoughts to the CFO. Perhaps cutbacks need to be implemented to steady the ship.

These are tough decisions that every IT business has to make every month, probably now over many years. Perhaps the outcome could be a reduced headcount or a cut in the staff training budget. I hope it’s not the latter.

I realise that every penny in the corporate pot is precious, but I would strongly urge IT firms against axing or reducing staff training and certifications. Why? Well, it’s down to strong evidence of the positive attributes these both bring to the workplace.

Research from IDC has found that 80% of IT managers believe effective training is critical in delivering successful IT projects. Additionally, Global Knowledge reports that IT training is, encouragingly, on the up; it found that the number of organisations planning to send staff on IT training courses to boost skills rose from 63% in 2011 to 80% last year.

What is pleasing about the statistic above is that it is the employer pushing the need for training to improve skills, not the employees who need to take the lead. We’ve all received appraisals where we’d like to have asked to attend training courses, but are often worried that the pot with the training budget is a little too empty. An even worse scenario is if we don’t get our employer’s backing to attend training and certification programmes.

So, we know that training is in demand and is beneficial, but what about certifications? How useful are they? Well, in short, they are very useful. Certifications provide two fundamental company benefits.

Firstly, the recruitment process can use certifications to help determine whether a candidate has the necessary skills to succeed. Research has found that among 800 US IT managers responsible for hiring, 62% agreed that IT certifications provide a desirable knowledge set for many IT roles. In fact, US HR professionals see the potential in certifications, with 81% expecting to see growth in this area over the next two years.

Secondly, certifications can play a role in building a productive team. Global Knowledge found that 92% of companies witnessed increases in staff effectiveness following certification. Additionally, IDC research found that organisations with higher percentages of certified staff demonstrated improved operational performance in several areas, including endpoint security, network availability, and on-time application deployment.

So, in summary, training and certifications are potentially a good return on investment for business productivity. It’s time to shout louder about this – ideally within earshot of the your CFO ahead of the next senior management team meeting.

How granting IT students free access to learning resources will help tackle the skills gap

It is often argued that your school days are among the best times of your life. Before you bombard me with experiences to the contrary, featuring memories of demon headmasters or headmistresses, I’m sure you would at least agree that education and learning helps broaden your mind.

During these formative, broadening years, and then later at university, education is key in helping to develop skills essential for the workplace. Granted. However, in today’s economic climate, it’s very tough to enter the IT job market for the first time – or even to return after a career break or unemployment.

But wait, all is not lost, as there is some good news for budding IT jobseekers. Phew. This week, CompTIA has announced that it has introduced free membership for its Authorized Partner Program for Academy Partners.

The Program will help academic institutions, non-profit organisations and government-run re-training agencies access to learning resources for students who want to break into the IT job market.

This is great news and very timely. The profession is demanding a new generation of IT experts across the globe. By eliminating membership fees, CompTIA is helping students to access vital instruction and relevant certifications that employers are crying out for.

Students taking part in this free initiative will gain a real understanding of why it’s so important to think strategically, communicate effectively and, most importantly, meet business goals in the IT world. Sometimes, the need to speak the language of business is lost on our education curriculum planners.

I have spoken out in the past about how education needs to align itself more with business thinking. IT teaching needs to be more inspiring, relevant and engaging. If as a united industry we can support the better teaching of IT to generate more savvy students, we can really start to tackle the worldwide skills gap. What better way to kick start IT job creation through better learning than via the Authorized Partner Program?

If you’re a student trying to get a foothold on the IT career ladder and you’d like to find out more about the Program, it’s advisable to speak with your academic institution.

As a final point, perhaps the demon headmaster or headmistress you feared at school was upset for good reason. Perhaps they didn’t have access to the resources needed to succeed quicker in their careers. The future generation of IT professionals is more blessed it seems!

You Might Be More Suited to I.T. Than You Think

Nearly a third of young people claim they have never considered a career in I.T. And yet, they might be surprised just how many people are suited to working in the industry.

The problem is that ‘exciting’ is not a word which readily springs to mind when the I.T. sector is mentioned to people outside of the industry. In a survey of 1,000 students conducted by CompTIA, as many as 17% still hold on to the belief that a job in I.T. involves sitting in a backroom with little or no social contact. A further 36% assumed they needed an I.T. related degree, while 16% believe that I.T. would be too technical for them.

This is a shame. I.T. plays a fundamental role in all aspects of our lives. It touches on a huge number of industries which young people would like to work in, from sport and entertainment to music and technology. It involves building and fixing things, helping other people,working with the latest technology, and it provides opportunities for travel.

The real pity is that many of the young people currently struggling to find employment have exactly the right skills and interests to pursue a successful career in I.T. Around nine in ten students questioned said that they are hard-working, while over three quarters believe they are quick learners, good at problem solving and able to work as part of a team. In terms of what they expect from a career, a high salary, variety and ongoing development are the most important considerations. These are all things needed and offered by the I.T. profession.

However, the ‘I.T. Crowd’ myth of unsociable work puts a lot of people off applying. This is the problem for an industry that has a lot to offer, yet is struggling to attract the 110,400 new entrants it needs each year to keep up with the industry’s growth.

These misconceptions are not entirely the students’ fault. Few people at school or university have I.T., or indeed any career, properly explained to them. Our research shows that a staggering 41% of students do not feel well-informed about the range of careers available to them, and only 13% said that their education institutions fully-equipped them to make career decisions.

Students are clearly aware of this. Indeed, 51% think there should be better careers advice at school or university; 61% feel they need more information about careers other than those directly related to their field of study; and 55% want more information about the careers that different subjects can lead to. Education institutions can clearly be doing a lot more to explain different careers to students.

CompTIA calls this group of people - who have the interests and skills but not the information – MEMOs, because they are ‘Motivated, Educated and Missing Out’. Of the students surveyed, we believe around three quarters fit this category, many of whom would be well suited to I.T. if they knew a bit more about what it really offered.

The good news is that there are many routes into the I.T. industry. An I.T. degree is useful for coding or programming jobs, but most entry-level I.T. jobs don’t require this. Those with school qualifications or degrees in other areas will find they have many of the right skills to start a career in I.T.

Industry certifications, such as the ones offered by CompTIA, can quickly provide the technical knowhow. People who work in I.T. come from a wide variety of backgrounds, but they are generally intelligent people, hard workers, good problem solvers and have an enthusiasm for new technology.

It’s these people that will help shape the way the UK and the world operates in the coming decades. The I.T. industry offers far more than many people imagine. For those who have the education and the motivation, but are struggling to find the career for them, taking time to find out exactly what I.T. can offer may be the best decision of their life.

“Why the monkeys wouldn’t climb the pole”

It’s a tough world out there. In this competitive environment of converging markets, stark competition and demanding employers, the need to be at the top of one’s game has become even more crucial.

Globalization has turned the world into an open job-hunt zone, therefore, confirming the reliability of international recognition over the sometimes more restricted national credential. Consequently, employers demand the right to be harder to please. And, in fact, they are. Requiring high standards of achievement from prospective team members, employers insist on no less than masters of the trade, a high level of professionalism and a commitment to continuing professional education. Typically these demands suggest two words: getting certified.

What prevents those individuals from taking that final step and sit their exam?

 They have completed their studies, have all the required knowledge but a large percentage do not sit an exam to provide evidence of their understanding in their chosen field.  

As humans beings we decide what is acceptable and ‘normal’ by looking at the people around us. Our parents, teachers, and friends exert huge influence over what we believe is possible in our lives. The upside is a feeling of belonging but the downside is that if we try to break out of those accepted paradigms we invariably meet resistance.

There is a famous experiment involving monkeys that illustrates this very powerfully. Scientists put several monkeys into a large enclosure. In the middle of the enclosure there was a tall wooden pole with a bunch of bananas on the top. When the monkeys tried to reach the bananas they were blasted with a high-pressure water hose. Although it didn’t hurt them, it was obviously not an enjoyable experience and eventually all the monkeys stopped trying to get to the bananas.

Then they removed one of the original monkeys and added a new monkey to the group. Although accepted by the group, as soon as he spotted the bananas and went to retrieve them, all the remaining monkeys pulled him off the pole – even though this time there was no water hose. They had been conditioned to believe that climbing the pole equalled pain so they were saving the new monkey from harm.

Soon, even the new monkey stopped trying to climb the pole. Eventually all the original monkeys were replaced one by one until none of the monkeys in the enclosure had witnessed or experienced the actual water treatment and yet none of them would make any attempt to go up the pole and get the bananas.

Like those monkeys, we judge what is acceptable by those around us.  If you lead an unhealthy life and your family or friends also lead an unhealthy life then it can’t be that bad – right. Actually yes it can, but it’s very possible that even if you recognise it and try to change it those around you will try to ‘pull you off the pole’. This is partly because they don’t want to see you fail and partly because they don’t want you to succeed either – otherwise they may have to change also. If you make an attempt to change the status quo you are likely to meet some resistance. Sadly, it is often those who supposedly love us the most who discourage us the most.

Perhaps those who don’t sit the exam and get certified are like the remaining monkeys in the enclosure. They don’t want to change the status quo, or, are afraid of failing, or possibly it is due to peer pressure. Maybe it’s all three.

There are over 1 million certified CompTIA certified professionals worldwide.

Why CompTIA?

As the global IT industry association, CompTIA builds vendor-neutral certifications that measure foundational skills. They show employers you have the skills to do the job, regardless of the vendor of the hardware or software product. Many of these exams are also prerequisites or electives for more advanced vendor certifications. It really is the starting point for a career in IT. Plus, earning a certification not only proves you have the right skills, but also the dedication and commitment to your career to continue learning.

CompTIA certifications are trusted because they are such an accurate predictor of employee success. When developing an exam, CompTIA engages international focus groups and recruits subject matter experts from around the world to define programs, write, review and participate in beta exams. CompTIA certifications are built with the knowledge of experts and industry leaders from the public and private sectors, including training, academia and the government.