Goodwill, Linux Foundation Team Up to Create IT Career Paths

By Kathy Gurchiek Feb 2, 2016
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Employers in central Texas are struggling to find skilled talent for the thousands of available Linux-related jobs. Matt Williams, vice president of education at Goodwill of Central Texas, knows there is a willing workforce among the adult students at the Goodwill Excel Center, Goodwill’s first free public charter high school for adults in Texas, and the Goodwill Career and Technical Academy, both located in Austin.

But they need help preparing for those available Linux jobs.

“We’ve seen job-posting boards,” Williams told SHRM Online. “We hear this all the time—[employers are] having a hard time finding and hiring Linux systems administration talent.”

Linux is an open-source operating system modelled on UNIX. A March 2015 Linux Jobs Report, based on global findings from more than 1,000 hiring managers and more than 3,400 Linux professionals, found that the rise of open-cloud platforms is creating more demand for Linux professionals but noted that hiring managers are “struggling to find professionals with Linux skills.” A popular Linux job board for Central Texas has had as many as 52,000 open jobs listed, Williams said.

Enter the Extended Learning Linux Foundation Scholarship Program that the Linux Foundation and Goodwill created. Through it, the foundation provides free access to its online open-sourcing training materials and its certification exam to students at the Excel Center and the Career and Technical Academy (GCTA). Goodwill encourages students at the Excel Center to dual-eroll at the GCTA while completing their high school curriculum.

The pilot scholarhsip program began December 2015 at the Excel Center, where students range in age from 17-50. Linux is interested in eventually pairing with other Goodwills throughout the country, according to the Linux Foundation.

By focusing on one of central Texas’ biggest employment needs, “we get people invested in careers” so they don’t have to bounce from job to job, Williams said. “There are thousands of [IT] jobs in Austin right now and there’s no one to fill them. We have a lot of latent talent who just need a little bit of training, a little bit of support. One pipeline to this is the Linux program.”

Students primarily work on their own, remotely, using self-paced Linux Foundation courses. Goodwill plans to provide teachers, computer labs, onsite child care and dedicated bus routes to the Goodwill Excel Centeronce the full program begins in February, but students may continue to work remotely. Linux-based internships will be available to students in early summer or fall. Once a student has completed the program, Goodwill will help with job placement.

Providing IT training is a high priority for Goodwill in Austin because of the hiring needs of companies in the area, according to Williams.

“Our forte is finding people jobs,” he said. “We know the pipeline [for jobs] is there” for people who can work as Linux system administrators and managers, manage the operation of the network, manage IT security protocol, and install new software. “Without this training,” he noted in a press release, “most of these students would never have the opportunity to pursue this type of career.”

Pathway to an IT Career

Michael Cortez, age 29, works 40 hours managing a kitchen in a university dormitory and is a full-time student at the Goodwill Excel Center, where he will graduate with his high school diploma in June. He also is one of five students in the Linux pilot program, which he began December 2015.

Cortez devotes about two hours a night to studying Linux using the laptop the foundation provides to each of the IT students.

“It’s been a roller-coaster ride,” he said. “There’ve been days I just want to say, ‘I don’t want to do it anymore.’ But I keep going ... until it clicks.”

He is making his way through the first of three online modules. The initial one—an introduction to Linux and Essential of System Administration—is free to anyone anywhere in the world, according to Clyde Seepersad, general manager of training and certification for Linux. The remaining two modules, which include about 100 lab exercises, are not free; without the scholarship program they would be inaccessible to students at the Excel Center.

After completing all the modules—which can take anywhere from six to 12 months—he will sit, at no cost, for a timed, monitored, performance-based Linux Foundation Certified System Administrator exam. The exam replicates a high-pressure job situation, Seepersad told SHRM Online.

He hopes to earn his Linux certification by October, and said that his dream job is to work as a systems administrator or network security administrator for a hospital or the Excel Center.

“They’re not choosing from multiple choice and fill-in-the blank [questions],” Seepersad said. Employers can trust that someone holding certification is “someone who can do the work.

“We’re willing to train as many [students] as Goodwill lines up in their local communities,” he noted. “We’ve taken a number of actions to fill the talent gap—[this] scholarship program is one of them.”

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor at HR News. Follow her @SHRMwriter.

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