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Innovative Canada Training Model Helps Win Landmark $100,000 Grant

Calgary: YYC Net Lab and Networking Academy Prepare Immigrant and Indigenous Women for Technology Jobs


Fresh Approach to Tech Learning

Technology workers are in short supply in Calgary, Canada—an urgent problem affecting cities around the world. Mike Simoens, an entrepreneur who is active in Calgary’s nonprofit community, decided that technology training needed a fresh approach.

“We need an educational model that can serve students with more diverse — and not necessarily technical — backgrounds. Students need a flexible training schedule, because most have respon-sibilities that make classroom-based study impossible. But self-paced alone won’t provide effective training. Mentorship and collaboration are incredibly important, especially when the training is an entirely new area for a student.”

Mike teamed up with Mark Leonard, a certified Cisco Networking Academy instructor, to create YYC Net Lab. The nonprofit became a Cisco Networking Academy program, and began offering CCNA (Cisco Certificated Networking Associate) courses, which prepare students for globally-recognized industry certification exams.

An Ecosystem Has a Broader Reach

Early on, Mike reached out to 2 other well-established nonprofits, Making Changes and Momentum, each created to help raise people out of poverty. “It’s important to create a vibrant, supportive ecosystem around your nonprofit. Find organizations with complementary missions. Reach out. Start conversations. You’d be amazed at what can happen.”

Case in point: this fledgling ecosystem of 3 non-profits was awarded a high-profile $100,000 grant from the newly created Alberta Status of Women agency, to prepare immigrants and Indigenous women for careers in technology. Making Changes finds the learning candidates, and YYC Net Lab delivers the 14-week training courses. Making Changes also works with the women on employment and life skills. “Our primary criteria for students is problem solving abilities, not computer skills,” says Cathy Coutts, Executive Director, Making Changes.

Impact with Inaugural Class

Peace Ilondior is the great learner example. She moved to Calgary from Nigeria with an advanced degree in Environmental Science. But she had been unable to find a good job in Calgary—or even get an interview in her field. “Immigrant women experience significant barriers as they transition to life in Canada. Indigenous women are often mired in a generational poverty cycle. Both struggle to move beyond ‘survivor’ jobs to well-paying careers,” says Cathy.

Peace was part of the inaugural class of 16 women. All of the women finished with some level of certification; all have gotten internships; and 5 have already secured full-time employment. “It’s amazing how fast these women have progressed. It’s beyond our expectations,” says Mike. In addition, companies that participated with internships are signing up again, a testament to the quality of candidates coming out of the program.

Before the inaugural class even graduated, the program secured multi-year funding from another source. YCC Net Lab is expanding the Networking Academy curriculum, adding IT Essentials. And a new class of class of immigrant and indigenous women has begun (2018).

The New Training Model

YYC Net Lab has created a flexible, self-study Networking Academy program that enables students to do coursework any time of the day or night. Using Cisco Webex Teams collaboration technology, students can also work together, helping each other with problems, posting questions for other students or instructors to answer. Mark Leonard, YYC Net Lab instructor, sometimes refers to it as “crowdsourced learning.”

The program is not only effective at teaching Cisco courses, it fosters mentoring, teamwork, and problem solving. Potential employers value qualities like these.

Students have already returned to mentor new students. Three of the early graduates are pursuing Networking Academy instructor certification.