High school students across West Virginia now have the opportunity to graduate with an informational technology certification thanks to a new collaboration between the West Virginia Department of Education and Microsoft.
The Department selected Microsoft's IT Academy, a Microsoft YouthSpark program, for West Virginia's high schools and career and technical schools, the virtual high school and the WVDE. The announcement was made today during the Statewide Technology Conference being held in Morgantown.
"We're trying to accomplish a couple of things here," Sterling Beane, Chief Technology Officer for the state Department of Education said. "One, provide opportunities for out students and two, to try to start economic development because there are a lot of companies out there seeking highly-skilled workers and technically-skilled workers."
The Microsoft IT Academy prepares educators and students with industry-recognized certifications and through the WVDE will be offered to students free of charge beginning in the fall across the state.
The program begins with a catalog of over 1,100 courses designed to teach participants to be proficient in a range of Microsoft products. Then, participants are prompted to the second step of the program.
"Once they've gone through and completed the coursewear, then they can achieve a Microsoft Professional Certification," Margo Day, vice president, U.S. Education, Microsoft said. "It's done it two steps."
Students, teachers and support staff are eligible to earn Microsoft Office Specialist or Microsoft Technology Associate, and Microsoft Certified Professional certifications through the program.
The program will begin this year, but Beane does not expect participants to become certified right out of the gate.
"We'll roll it out this year and, as with any other program you roll out, there's a natural progression," he said. "It starts out slowly and builds over time. So, we're looking at this as a long term project, we're excited to implement it and watch it grow."
According to an IDC study, more than 50 percent of today's jobs require some technology skills, and experts say that the percentage will increase to 77 percent in the next decade. The gap between the demand for IT professionals and supply of qualified employees with the right technical skills is predicted to be as high as 40 percent over the next five to 10 years.
"Within 10 years, 60 percent of jobs that exist will be ones that don’t exist today," West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Chuck Heinlein said. "The IT Academy brings industry relevant technology education and software to West Virginia creating opportunities for every teacher and every student in the state to be successful now and into the future. The extent of our collaboration with Microsoft is unprecedented and our students are the true benefactors."
The WVDE has also launched Microsoft Office 365, a suite of tools for students and teachers for communication and collaboration. Office 365 is being made available to every student and faculty member in West Virginia’s public schools. Through Microsoft's Student Advantage program, it is provided to students at no charge.
"This is a way for us to partner with the education system in a workforce-ready kind of way, as preparing students for college and career," Day said. "To be able to fulfill and fill those open jobs where employers are looking for Microsoft-skilled employees."