When recession crippled Spain’s economy in 2007, thousands of workers lost jobs. Lacking the skills to thrive in the IT industry, which remained strong, many risked falling into long-term unemployment. A training program in Barcelona used the Cisco Networking Academy curriculum to help some of these young people launch new careers in a connected world.
By 2014, youth unemployment (ages 15-24) in Spain was over 50 percent. Donald De Witte, a product sales specialist with Cisco in Barcelona, recognized 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,” Donald said of the unemployed. “There was a vast amount of unskilled laborers 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. Young men and women helped fuel this growth, finding work that required little training. But when the economy crashed, their job options disappeared.
At Fundacio Trinijove, a nonprofit organization specializing in professional training in Barcelona, young men and women found new career paths, combining Cisco Networking Academy curriculum with problem solving and communication skills to prepare for the jobs of the future.
The program 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’ll 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, while others had previous run-ins with the law. The program gave them an opportunity to surmount 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 communicate complex ideas clearly to customers in need.
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 11 began apprenticeships with local companies – this year, 2 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 program. 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.”
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 program, 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.”
The program at Trinijove began its second year in March 2015 with almost 20 young men and women. Donald believes the training is only improving with time.
“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 program 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 program 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 listening to Evelyn’s feedback closely, tailoring the program to ensure that students leave prepared to thrive as future networking professionals. Jason added that the training transformed the students, helping them to break free from their shells and muster the courage to pursue careers in the IT industry.
“What we can do, as part of this amazing project, is motivate students,” he said. “At the end of the 12-week program, students were engaged, wanted to work hard, and showed enthusiasm toward changing their lives.”