D.C. group grooms students for IT careers

According to the fiscal 1999 strategic plan for the CIO Council, a key priority for information technology management will be improving the IT skills of the federal work force. The CIO Council joins the chorus of voices telling us that we face a desperate shortage of workers who possess the IT talents and experience to keep the nation moving along the high-tech track that is so critical to prosperity.

Washington, D.C.-based agencies are fortunate then that a bold experiment in IT worker training has just appeared in our very midst. D.C. Link & Learn has opened its doors in southwest D.C.'s Waterside Mall and starts classes this month. It is the brainchild of IBM Corp. retiree Archie Prioleau. I have worked as a paid consultant to Prioleau in the past, but my current interest is pro bono because I believe in DCLL's vision. DCLL proceeds from simple but revolutionary premises.

First, the economy of the Washington metropolitan area flourishes as "Silicon Valley East," while the economy of the District of Columbia is in sharp decline. Second, the solution to this paradox is to create direct linkages between Washington's prospering knowledge industries—IT businesses and government agencies—and the D.C. educational system, based on voluntary partnerships, so that technology education becomes the engine of D.C.'s economic growth.

If we can do this, technologically modernized D.C. schools and community centers will educate community members in curricula leading to certifiable IT skills or post-secondary training. In the process, Washington's IT companies and federal agencies will acquire a direct stake in preparing the kinds of workers they need and will put corporate good citizenship into action.

DCLL's seeds were sown several years ago when Prioleau's Foundation for Educational Innovation, assisted by the Commerce Department, Cisco Systems Inc., Novell Inc. and others, taught a group of C-average seniors at southeast D.C.'s Ballou Senior High School how to be certified network administrators. That pilot effort was a qualified success at best, but it showed that inner-city students in D.C. public schools could learn IT skills. Some of them walked straight out of Ballou into $25,000-a-year jobs with local IT firms—an unimaginable result just six months earlier. It's no wonder DCLL's classes were oversubscribed before they started, and more than 600 students were on a waiting list, hoping for vacancies.

DCLL has profited already from the dedication and generosity of companies and agencies that believe the concept can work. Behind Prioleau has stood an informal collection of business and government leaders led by Alice Rivlin, a former director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Clinton administration and now chairwoman of the D.C. Financial Control Board. In addition to Commerce, the General Services Administration under the leadership of GSA Administrator David Barram, D.C. government agencies, Microsoft Corp., NationsBank and Southeastern University are DCLL founding partners, and others have contributed.

DCLL will train local students and community members in immediately employable IT skills, place them with D.C. firms and agencies, refurbish surplus computers, offer junior- and senior-level college courses through Southeastern, upgrade teachers' IT skills and accomplish all of this through cooperative programs with local schools, community centers and churches.

The DCLL program has come a long way, but it is just beginning. From federal agencies and IT firms, DCLL needs money, of course, as well as in-kind contributions and facilities to continue the generous community response.

Most of all, DCLL needs the voluntary contribution of time and talent by IT professionals who believe in its vision.

DCLL is a place where agencies and companies can invest their own voluntary talent and get short- and long-term payoffs in upgrading their IT work forces. It's a win-win scenario for company and agency IT personnel who have a hands-on, can-do frame of mind. For more information, visit DCLL's Web site at www.link-learn.org.

--Sprehe is president of Sprehe Information Management Associates, Washington, D.C. He can be reached at jtsprehe@jtsprehe.com.

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