If there is a silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is that a year in lockdown forced everyone from kids to grandparents to learn how to do practically anything online—attend classes, discuss medical treatments with physicians, join a virtual yoga or exercise class, catch up with friends and family via FaceTime, order takeout from restaurants, and arrange to have everything from groceries to gadgets delivered to the front door. In the process, we’ve learned more about the capabilities of our PCs, tablets and smartphones. Is there anyone out there who hasn’t been invited to a Zoom meeting?
This also means that the demand has increased for people schooled in information technology (IT) who can help the rest of us learn how to be more computer literate. Additionally, because of the upsurge in unemployment, there also has been a group of people who need to train for new jobs.
“There has been an increased demand for IT education because of people who are unemployed looking for new careers, especially for those who lost jobs in the hospitality industry,” explains Patrick Callihan, executive director of Philadelphia-based Tech Impact, a company with several education initiatives in Delaware. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, network and computer system administrators make an average of slightly more than $40 per hour or a median yearly salary of about $83,000. In addition to IT training, most of these jobs require either a bachelor’s or an associate degree.
One of the primary Tech Impact programs in Delaware is IT Works. “We run it twice a year, with each program 16 weeks long,” Callihan says. “Typically, it’s 11 weeks in the class and five weeks in an intern program, but both are being conducted online at present. Each class has 15 to 18 students, of which 90 percent will graduate, and greater than 80 percent will have full-time employment on graduation.”
Tech Impact also runs a program called Tech Hire Delaware, where they “work as an intermediary to place Delaware residents in Delaware tech training programs,” Callihan explains. Subsequently, the company also provides services such as career training and job placement for the students during the learning programs.
Because of its experience in IT training in Delaware, Tech Impact was awarded $2 million in CARES Act funding in October to provide free IT training to Delawareans impacted by COVID-19. According to Callihan, “About 250 people have already finished the training program—all of them Delaware residents or whose employment is connected with Delaware firms or organizations.” Moreover, half of those are “underrepresented people,” he says. “It’s been a great diversity program.”
One of the things that many businesses and educational systems quickly learned as soon as everyone went home in the first days of the pandemic was the immediate need to educate people on both sides of the computer screens—not only students, patients and office workers but also teachers, doctors and nurses and business executives.
One fortunate occurrence many schools and colleges found to their advantage was the timing of that first lockdown in March 2020, which roughly coincided with spring break. Mark Brainard, president of the four campuses of Delaware Technology Community College, says that in only two weeks—spring break, plus one—professors and instructors had to switch from “an in-person, on-campus college” to one that was offering 1,700 classes online, allowing the college to “save” the spring semester for its students and conduct a virtual graduation.
As Robin Morgan, provost at the University of Delaware, points out, in addition to making the pivot from in-person to all-online classes, all faculty and staff also had to communicate with each other virtually to do planning and operations as well as to provide students services from class registration to financial aid. During the spring 2020 semester, one staff member says most days she “went from one Zoom meeting to another, from 8 a.m. until after 5.”
The same demands fell on health care for normal services and COVID care. As an example, David Tam, M.D., CEO and president of Beebe Health, says the Sussex County institution arranged with its internet provider, Verizon, to hold multiple online town hall meetings to educate and update patients and others about COVID-19 and healthcare resources available.
Everyone, it seemed, was constantly learning new ways to communicate online—with a little (or a lot of) help from their IT resources.
In late January 2021, the state hired Tech Impact with CARES Act funding to establish and operate a toll-free community help desk (844-800-1007) to support workforce development and broadband access. Staffed by recent graduates of IT Works, the help desk “enables students, parents and teachers to access information, service and support as they navigate the complexities around remote and hybrid learning environments.”
The Help Desk is accessible to all Delawareans with questions about online technology, and its toll-free line, 844-800-1007, is open 8:30 am to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.