I.T. Matches Made in Ramsey County
31 Mar 2022
News, Workforce Stories
Information Technology (I.T.) jobs are in extremely high demand today. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates employment of information security analysts will grow 33% from 2020 to 2030 and computer support specialists will grow by 9%, whereas the average for all occupations is about 4% in that timeframe.
Ramsey County has a diverse workforce population that has grown up surrounded by technology more than any other generation. St. Paul’s Metropolitan State University (Metro State) has historically been known as an excellent resource for I.T. companies to find qualified employees. A collaborative effort between several Ramsey County organizations and Metro State has resulted in a unique program designed to ensure those opportunities exist for community members who are in the greatest need of finding better-paying employment.
“There is tremendous demand in the marketplace for young, diverse jobseekers oriented toward technology,” said Jodi Bantley, Metro State Associate Director for Civic and Community Partnerships in the Institute for Community Engagement and Scholarship. “That demand does not need to be filled by individuals only with a four-year degree, so we are focused on opportunities that build a ladder to higher-wage employment for our community members and students.”
Metro State has provided excellent I.T. education for years, with an increasing focus on cybersecurity. It opened a new science building in 2016 and the school has a $4.3 million bond request before the Minnesota State Legislature for a cybersecurity training facility in the university’s old cafeteria. It is a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense awarded by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security, one of the first Minnesota institutions to be designated as such. The school is also host to the Minnesota State I.T. Center of Excellence, designed to address tech workforce shortage issues for Minnesota companies.
The MN Cyber Institute is Metro State’s center for cybersecurity, where students can complete a B.S. in Cybersecurity, M.S. in Cyberoperations and B.A.S. degrees in Computer Forensics and Information Assurance. It has state-of-the-art facilities, such as the MN Cyber Range, a military-grade simulation platform for training information security professionals on incident response processes and testing new technologies.
East Side connection
Another Metro State I.T. program, MN Cyber Academy, helps match students with I.T. and Cybersecurity roles that require specific certifications without completing a four-year program, which fits Metro State’s reputation for assisting individuals to improve their earning capability. In 2021, Metropolitan State University was the highest-ranked educational institution in Minnesota in CollegeNet’s Social Mobility Index, a measure of the extent to which an institution educates more economically disadvantaged students and graduates them into well-paying jobs. In addition, a recent Government Technology article reported that of the most recent 97 new black computer science graduates in Minnesota, 42 of them graduated from Metro State.
Metro State’s Cybersecurity Certification Training Program, developed through the MN Cyber Academy, is designed to match cybersecurity jobs with individuals from disadvantaged communities. In the fall of 2020, a cohort of East Side jobseekers supported by the Hmong American Partnership (HAP) joined the program, providing a more advanced opportunity for HAP participants who are interested in tech careers. This effort between Metro State faculty came together through the East Side Employment xChange, a collaboration of several local St. Paul organizations designed to bridge the gap between residents seeking sustainable work and businesses in need of quality employees.
“These organizations all strive to create opportunity and self-sufficiency in marginalized communities,” said Bantley.
The training program included the necessary education to take Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) certification exams in IT Fundamentals, A+, Network+, PenTest+, Security+ and CyberSecurityAnalyst+. Metro State has the capacity to add future coursework with additional certifications to allow its community-based training programs to grow.
“These are not just generic classes,” said Bantley. “By preparing students with these specific industry certifications, we can establish a pipeline of qualified employees for local employers.”
Six students started the program in January 2021, finishing in seven months, with all participants passing at least some of the certification exams. Metro State and HAP partners learned vital lessons about the program, specifically that participants needed more support that went far beyond the classroom.
“East Side participants are generally surviving on low-wage jobs and are juggling current employment and family obligations while in the program,” said Bantley.
The university and HAP staff have spent several months determining how best to present the next program offering, called the East Side Customized Cybersecurity Certification Training Program. The result is a ten-month program beginning in May, which allows for more time to study material prior to each certification exam. Each certification course will run for five weeks of instruction, one week to study and one week for exam preparation. All classes will be held virtually with the potential for some in-person sessions.
In addition, the goal is to offer the training program free of charge to participants who are enrolled in workforce development programs provided by partners in the xChange, including the American Indian Family Center, Latino Economic Development Center, CLUES, Merrick Community Services, 30 Ft Arts, Lutheran Social Services, Goodwill-Easter Seals, Ramsey County, and more. Therefore, Bantley especially encourages East Side residents to apply through these organizations or by emailing Yer Yang, Career and Job Training Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“This is an intensive commitment the students undertake, participating in night classes twice per week for ten months,” said Bantley. “But the opportunity positions graduates for jobs like cybersecurity technicians paying over $50,000 a year, which is an excellent start to climb out of the poverty levels they are currently experiencing.”