Never too late to learn

CIO University

Like most of his colleagues in government, Tony Nuriddin wanted to keep

his technology skills up-to-date. And the only way to do that was to go

back to school.

So Nuriddin, 34, who has spent 15 years in the Air Force, enrolled

in the government's CIO University information technology certificate program

to maintain proficiency in his field. He worked by day as a communications

and information manager for the Air Force and went to school at night at

George Washington University. The government paid $562 toward the $1,500

cost of each of the 10 courses he took. He paid the rest and went to school

two nights a week for two years to get a certificate to help him further

his career.

"I look forward to leaving the military in five years," he said recently.

"In the interim, I will continue to educate myself in order to remain competitive

and prepared for the transition from military life to civilian employment."

Nuriddin is part of a growing number of government workers taking advantage

of government-sponsored courses. And there are many reasons these days to

do so.

To combat a chronic shortage of IT workers, the government is financing

educational initiatives to create a more skilled work force. One of the

initiatives, the CIO University, graduated its first class of 18 students

last month. Another initiative, an electronic government fellowship program

for federal workers, will get under way later this year.

"Between government and academia, it's the place where we meet," said Emory

Miller, director for professional IT development at the General Services

Administration. Miller runs the CIO University program, a joint initiative

of the CIO Council and GSA.

Miller said the CIO University philosophy is about integrating government,

not creating more stovepipes, which hampered the delivery of services across

government.

"It is no longer the mainframe in the basement, the server down the

hall," he said. "We do not develop an agency business plan and walk down

the hallway to the IT person's office, knock on the door and say, "Deliver

this.' The IT person should be integral in developing the business plan."

CIO University is a consortium of universities in the Washington, D.C.,

area offering dozens of graduate-level programs to address the needs of

high-tech workers. The courses are designed to teach students to look at

IT in new ways, develop new types of architectures and deliver services

in the most cost-effective manner.

"I find that the adult students know about half of what they need to

know, but they are not sure what half," said Cynthia Shoemaker, program

representative for CIO University at George Washington University.

The second new educational initiative available for government workers

is sponsored by the nonpartisan think tank the Council for Excellence in

Government. The council's new e-government fellows program is modeled after

another council program that has trained government executives in leadership

skills.

"Much of it boils down to leadership, personal responsibility for leadership.

These are the risks that we're asking people to take," said Steve Cochran,

director of the Technology Leadership Consortium at the Council for Excellence

in Government.

Cochran and others recently spent four days at the Ben & Jerry's

Homemade Holdings Inc.'s ice cream headquarters in Vermont. The company

is well-known for its enlightened leadership policies, and the council wanted

to see how government could take advantage of its techniques.

The e-government fellows program — which costs about $10,000 per student — will be funded by federal agencies that nominate fellowship candidates.

Participants will meet about three days a month. "We are carefully balancing

the agencies, from the Defense Department to security agencies and civilian

agencies, to make it a balanced group. We want to be able to cut deals across

government and the research industry," Cochran said.

The first e-fellows will include 25 government employees, people already

in leadership positions, who want to hone their skills in working across

government and the private sector to come up with the best working models

for technology.

"A CIO is a very different kind of person from agency to agency. A [candidate]

might be in an undersecretary position. At another agency, a [candidate

might be at the] GS-14 level, but in a position to affect policy and budgeting,"

Cochran said.

However, participation is not without sacrifices, said Richard Guida, chairman

of the Federal PKI Steering Committee, based at the Treasury Department.

"For any senior executive, whatever time they spend during the day going

to class, they spend the night catching up on what they haven't done. And

that makes it a 12- to 14-hour work day," Guida said.

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