Competitive edge, not competition, key to ICT success

By Sean Perkins

Before he’s even set foot in the classroom each morning, Network and Computer Technology (NCT) instructor William McBride already has his mind set on one thing: the workforce. While other fields rely on competitions and contests to gauge the success of their programs, McBride prioritizes the employability of graduates above all else, claiming it produces better results for workers and the industry.
“Technical education isn’t about games, it’s about finding jobs,” says McBride. “It’s getting students trained to prepare for the workforce.”
His focus on giving NCT grads the skills that will guarantee them work grew out of a long-standing industry connection the Manitoba Institute of Trades and Technology (MITT) has built with information and communication technology (ICT) frontrunner, Cisco.
A Cisco Regional Networking Academy for the past 15 years, MITT is currently the only functioning Academic Support Center (ASC) that Cisco has in Manitoba, providing support to ten different Academies in schools throughout the province. But despite an impressive list of credentials, McBride calls the facility at MITT a “best-kept secret” in education.
“We’re the real deal,” he proclaims, “not just an ASC in name only. We’ve trained most of the instructors working at the Academies in Manitoba, we recently became the province’s only Authorized Instructor Training Center, and we have the best labs in Western Canada – yet many people don’t know about us because we don’t get involved in competitions; we only worry about getting jobs.”
What he calls the “key to success” for finding jobs for students after ten months of training is the program’s eight-week work practicum and how it is supported by the relationship with Cisco.
“We have to work to secure relevant work practicums every year. It’s not a static thing,” explains McBride. “As the industry changes, skillsets change; so, the partnerships change as well.”
Fortunately for him, the effort needed to find field placements each year is greatly reduced by the program’s ability to offer practical training and experience working with the latest and greatest in Cisco equipment. Because changes to the NCT curriculum are made in response to trends in the ICT industry, there is never a shortage of workplaces looking to upgrade their talent pool – only a need to find them.
This annual exercise in professional networking even provides the NCT program with an additional source of valuable frontline data that helps shape its response to changes in the industry it serves.
An outsider might be intimidated by the dramatic changes taking place in an already dynamic industry, such as the ubiquitous shift towards cloud networking or emerging reports of new large-scale data centres that could usher in a whole new standard for network configuration, but not McBride.
“Whatever may come,” he says, “we’ll be changing with it and training at some point to accommodate it. The essentials of a network will be there. You’ll still need to have a machine that’s running; it has to be configured and it has to be secured.”
Prospective NCT students touring MITT in recent months, had they met McBride, undoubtedly witnessed an impassioned pitch for them to help him change the face of the industry – one woman at a time.
Like many other skilled trades, the ICT field is largely dominated by men. So, with support from industry-wide movements like Girls in ICT, educators like McBride are reaching out to young people to address stereotypes that may discourage young women from pursuing a career in ICT.
His message is that through the Network and Computer Technology program, a career in ICT can be accessible to everybody. And while updates scheduled for 2015 could soon make your physical location irrelevant, for now, all Manitobans searching for a competitive edge in this rapidly changing industry full of opportunity can find it at MITT.

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