Building the skills to thrive in a connected world Building the skills to thrive in a connected world

Evelyn Iturra Molina found the inspiration to pursue an IT career while studying at Fundacio Trinijove – a training centre in Barcelona that developed a programme to prepare at-risk youth for the jobs of the future using Cisco Networking Academy courses.

Spain was badly affected by the recent economic crash, in particular its young people: as of July 2015, youth unemployment is at almost 50%. Many people who had lost their jobs lacked the skills to thrive in the IT industry, which remained strong, and so risked falling into long-term unemployment. Donald De Witte, a product sales specialist with Cisco in Barcelona, recognised that job preparation needed to include IT training if young people were to find work in an increasingly connected economy.

"Most were in construction or hospitality, and during the crisis, those jobs nearly disappeared," said Donald. "There was a vast amount of unskilled labourers who didn't know what to do."

The construction industry, for example, grew rapidly from the late 1990s to 2005, when Spain built more houses than the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Italy combined. But when the economy stalled, building jobs dried up.

At Fundacio Trinijove, a nonprofit organisation specialising in professional training in Barcelona, young men and women found new career paths, combining Cisco Networking Academy curriculum with problem solving and communication skills.

Connecting education with employment

The programme at Trinijove started in 2014 with a simple idea – partner with local companies to connect unemployed young people with careers in the IT field. As more companies adopt technology into their business practices, they will need employees with the skills to manage it.

Many of the selected men and women faced hurdles beyond unemployment, though; some struggled with learning difficulties or disabilities, and other social problems. The programme gave them an opportunity to overcome these obstacles by developing skills that are valuable in the workforce, learning from industry experts, and gaining hands-on experience from apprenticeships.

"We began with the idea that there is an increased demand for employees in the IT market," Donald said. "We wanted to give them the skills to start at the lower level of the industry and find jobs immediately." Many of the students trained to become help desk technicians, jobs that require a combination of technical skills and the ability to assist customers by communicating complex ideas clearly. Over 12 weeks, students attended in-class training and studied the Networking Academy IT Essentials course online, building skills in computer assembly, hardware troubleshooting, and software configuration. Fifteen students completed the course, and eleven began apprenticeships with local companies. This year, two students from the first class will receive free Cisco CCNA training in collaboration with Inlea, a Networking Academy outsourcing and services vendor.

"All of our students have the chance to get apprenticeships and are guaranteed employability," Donald said.

One of those students, Evelyn Iturra Molina, was hired as a help desk technician by Cirsa, a casino gaming company in Barcelona, just months after completing the programme. She had joined Trinijove with an interest in technology, but lacked the courage to pursue it as a career. "Although I enjoyed technology, getting a job never seemed like a reality for me," she said. "If you've never seen the inside of a computer, you're afraid to touch the chips and memory cards."

Evelyn's fears disappeared as soon as she began working hands-on with the instructors at Trinijove, who guided her through the coursework and helped her build the confidence she'd need in the workforce.

"Evelyn was very shy at first," Donald said. "But, one of the Cisco volunteers, Jason Daniels, helped her break through. She started helping other students and is now very successful at her new job."

"Although I enjoyed technology, getting a job
never seemed like a reality for me"

Combining networking expertise with soft skills training Jason volunteered to tutor the students in English so they could make an impression in interviews and the workplace.

"English is the main business language, and no-one had an intermediate knowledge of the language," he said.

Throughout the 12-week programme, Jason helped Evelyn and the other students understand and translate difficult networking terminology. He found that their desire to learn about computers inspired them to engage in the English language sessions.

"Having a teacher there helped me understand and gave me the confidence to get through all of the details," Evelyn said. "This allowed me to learn everything and become self-motivated."

Fine-tuning the programme

The programme at Trinijove began its second year in March 2015 with almost 20 young men and women, and Donald believes the training is improving year by year.

"This year, we'll have specific days to train the students on customer service," he said. "How do you help a customer who has come to the help desk for support? We'll give them those skills."

During planning, Donald and Olga Lasaga Millet of Abat Oliba CEU University, a local university and programme partner, contacted companies and customers of Cisco, who detailed the skills they were looking for in prospective employees. While those include a basic understanding of networking, the help desk expertise is critical.

"The programme gave me the technical knowledge I needed to start my job as a help desk technician," Evelyn said. "But soft skills, like listening to customers and asking good questions, are just as important."

Donald and the staff at Trinijove are taking student feedback into account, tailoring the programme to ensure that students have the necessary skills to succeed as networking professionals upon graduation. Jason added that the training developed more than just the students' skills; the programme also provided them with the confidence necessary to succeed.

"What we can do, as part of this amazing project, is motivate students," he said. "At the end of the 12-week programme, students were engaged, wanted to work hard, and showed enthusiasm toward changing their lives."