They started arriving more than half an hour early. Staffers Alix Potter and Emily Plunkett at Austin Free-Net (AFN) had no problems recruiting the first cohort for the Accelerate IT Certification Program. The program is a STEM workforce development initiative for those seeking training for entry-level network and computer system administrative positions. Those admitted undergo a minimum 133-hour course in CompTIA IT Fundamentals and A+ instruction. A selected number will continue coursework in Network+ and Security+. The Accelerate program pays for all training, labs and certification exams through a Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) grant. AFN dedicated an additional 40 hours of soft skill preparation: resumes, interviewing and communications. Twenty-four students, 62% of them women, completed an online assessment and interviews, to take their spot in this inaugural class.
The smell of Caramel Macchiato coffee brewing and the sight of an assortment of cookies wasn’t needed to entice those gathered into the room. Promptly at five p.m., all but a few seats were taken with eyes focused to the front of the room. Austin Free-Net’s Executive Director, Juanita Budd, opened the class with a warm welcome to a crowd spilling over into the hallway. Asked why they answered the call to apply for Accelerate, some stated that this opportunity provides a pathway to a higher income to support their families. The emotional commitment was palpable; heads nodded in agreement about shared past challenges to educational opportunities, voices rose in excitement about hopes for a better future.
As Accelerate administrators, instructor Kevin Lemieux and program director Cassondra Taylor, walked students through the syllabus and expectations, program participant Joseph Rocha raised his hand, a question apparent on his face. “So we don’t have to pay for the certification exam?”
“No, exam fees for each of the CompTIA A+, Network+ and Security+ courses are covered within the program.”
Austin Free-Net will provide training for 180 participants meeting qualifications for the sum total of the registration fee, $30. Working with placement officers, Austin Free-Net will engage Accelerate students obtaining one or more certification with local and national-level employers for employment.
Austin Free-Net aims to place 60% of Accelerate certificate earners in jobs before August 2018.
As best stated by Accelerate participant and Leander resident Jacqueline Ayers, “Computers are ubiquitous and Accelerate gives me a chance to get my foot in the door to a high demand occupation. I’ve waited too long to let any barrier stand in the way between me and that certificate.”