Tech workers and employers alike must stay up-to-date on the latest skills and trends. Universities can provide access to new kinds of knowledge and practical skills to help employees be prepared for the tech ecosystem, who can then bring the latest techniques to their employers.
Keeping up to date, however, can be an expensive proposition. Students can rack up hefty loans and debt pursuing the newest degrees and IT certifications. But as jobs in tech evolve, the needs for modern education and specific training continue to grow in importance.
To provide an affordable solution to this challenge, WGU Indiana — a completely online-based university — offers several degrees and certifications in technology. These programs highlight the basics of IT as well as several specific segments of the tech industry, like cloud computing, cybersecurity, and data analytics. Students can complete their coursework at their own pace, which is known as a “competency-based model.” As 75 percent of WGU’s IT students are already employed full-time, this model can be useful to many kinds of students.
For employees, the types of IT programs that WGU offers can benefit their careers. David Rettig, IT director for Waterloo, Ind.-based Nucor Buildings Group, sought out WGU for its high-quality education and affordability. Having completed an MBA through a “regular brick-and-mortar” school, David was surprised and delighted by the challenge the coursework posed to him. “The educational quality exceeded the traditional experience I had with my other degrees,” he said.
Like many of his fellow WGU alumni, he highly recommends the school to many people in his circles. In fact, he has helped several of his direct reports seek out a degree or certification from the university. “Everyone at Nucor knows how to do their jobs, but WGU provides a breadth of experience they can’t get at work,” he said. Nucor also sponsors part of the cost of attendance for employees who go back to school, a benefit for which David is grateful.
The university’s programs also prepare students for real-world challenges, as Brent Walls discovered. Brent, who serves as information security manager for the Indiana Department of Correction, completed both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at WGU. Like 20 percent of WGU’s students, he’s a military veteran. As a veteran of the United States Air Force, he received funding to cover his expenses for both his degrees and several certifications, something he said was “almost too good to be true.”
Brent enjoyed the competency-based model the university uses: “The flexibility in the coursework and ability to achieve is unbelievable. While my graduate program was projected to take two years to complete, I was able to finish in one year and 12 days.”
When Brent was confronted with challenges in beginning some new initiatives at work, he found instant connection to his coursework. “The Vulnerability Management program at WGU discussed some of the exact kind of resistance I experience in my job sometimes,” he said. “WGU made us think outside the box and think of new solutions.”
For employers, WGU programs bring plenty of benefits to the workplace. Dewand Neely is the CIO and director of the Office of Technology for the State of Indiana, where he is responsible for managing a large tech talent team. “We have 384 full-time state employees and 90 contractors assisting with current tech projects,” Dewand said. “This whole team supports 110 agencies around the state with 28,000 end users.”
Dewand hires at least a dozen people each year and seeks out candidates who have technical expertise in fields like cybersecurity and data analytics. Finding the right talent, however, has been difficult. “There’s a real shortage of a certain degree of technical workers, especially in cybersecurity,” he said. “We’re looking for people to come in and start contributing to the workplace.”
WGU tech programs have been aligned to help address these gaps in learning, and Dewand has noticed. “Their program is very unique and applicable to working professionals in the IT field,” he said. “We can use them as a way to promote continuing education, a place to point workers to and give them options. The university has adopted some key technical areas we look for, like security and general infrastructure work.”
For both workers and employers, WGU Indiana degrees and certifications in technology bring a wealth of up-to-date and practical knowledge that can translate easily to experiences working in the tech sector.