For someone without a college degree looking for a better job, work in IT support makes sense–most jobs in the field ask for only a high school diploma, pay a middle-class wage, and in the U.S., there are currently more than 150,000 open positions. The catch: most IT support jobs do require experience, and it’s hard to get that experience without already having a job.
A new certificate program, built by Google, aims to fill that gap. The online course includes interactive labs designed to give hands-on practice. If a lab asks someone to troubleshoot a problem on a Linux computer, for example, and someone doesn’t have one to practice on, the lab gives virtual access to a Linux environment. In eight to 12 months, someone with no prior experience should be ready for work.
“It’s completely built for beginners,” says Natalie Van Kleef Conley, a senior program manager at Google and product lead for the effort.
The program is designed to fully prepare someone for a new IT job, and staying with the course for as long as a year also serves as a signal of someone’s commitment. “I would say, as a long time IT hiring manager, it was clear to us that a key attribute that a candidate needs to be successful in an ever-changing field like tech is the grit, the determination, the self-led learning,” says Conley. “We think a course of this length is a strong proxy for that.”
For Google, the project is the extension of several years of work to train new IT workers. “We had really faced the issue, like many other companies do, where we had open IT support roles, and just not enough qualified candidates to fill them,” she says. The company started to build a long-term hiring pipeline in 2010, with an apprentice program, Google internships, and a full-time IT residency program. After seeing that the programs could work in a relatively short amount of time, the company decided to create the online class to reach more people.
In a partnership with nonprofits that work with low-income communities, refugees, and veterans, Google will provide grants to help more than 10,000 people take the class. The company also partnered with eight other corporations with open IT positions–including Bank of America, Walmart, and Sprint–that have committed to consider hiring those who complete the certificate.
Ultimately, Google wants to also provide more career opportunities to people in underserved communities. “We have lofty goals,” says Conley. “The nature of work is changing, and so there’s a shift in that link between education and opportunities . . . we aim to bridge that digital divide and create more opportunities for learners.”