When Amazon was looking for a location on the East Coast, one of its pitches was the effect on the economy, promising thousands of well-paying jobs. Earlier this year, the company announced its 1,000th hire at its new HQ2 offices in Arlington. When construction on the new office complex is complete, the target date now is 2023, Amazon’s goal is for half of its 25,000 HQ2 employees to work there.
Finding qualified candidates to fill those positions isn’t easy, but the technology company is turning to Thomas Nelson, the Virginia Community College System and other institutions across the country for help. The company has created AWS (Amazon Web Services) Educate, with the goal, according to its website, of providing students and educators access to content and programs for careers in growing fields, particularly those related to the cloud. The program also helps connect students to employers through a job board.
This spring, Nick Pierce, Workforce Development program manager for Information Technology and Cybersecurity, added a course in cloud computing and infrastructure (ITN257).
“Thomas Nelson was looking to add some cloud content to our curriculum because the cloud world is a very huge thing within IT,” he said.
Call if good timing, if you will, because Amazon was creating educational and instructional programs to train new employees, offering credentials for various steps of accomplishments.
“What Amazon has done is they have basically externalized their certification training for what is known as ‘cloud practitioner,’” Pierce said.
He added that is an entry level certification into how AWS utilizes the cloud, from the services it offers to sales and pricing.
“The content for ‘Amazon Educate’ was developed strictly by Amazon and AWS to provide the training necessary for a student to prepare for the certification exam from AWS,” Pierce said. “Everything is built by Amazon, quizzes built in, knowledge checks and tests at the end, so we’re using all that content and leveraging it within our course. We didn’t have to start at Square 1 to try to figure out what we’re going to teach.”
One big benefit for Amazon is the company doesn’t have to do any recruiting. That is, more or less, the role of the institutions who use the Amazon Educate program. When enrolled in the class, the students sign up through an Amazon account. After successfully completing a program, students are notified about jobs within Amazon, or are linked to more certifications for a better job.
For the participating colleges, there are no added costs. Pierce said Thomas Nelson didn’t have to hire any staff since he was qualified to teach the class. For the students, there are no obligations to work for Amazon after earning certification. In essences, Amazon is training its employees through the colleges where they have agreements.
“When they selected Northern Virginia for this, the conversation began to see how Amazon could utilize the resources at both two-year and four-year institutions, and even some postgrad programs in developing some cloud education within the state,” Pierce said.
The course in the spring was what Pierce called a pilot program. It had seven students. The course wasn’t offered in the fall, but is being offered in the spring 2021 semester.
Pierce said his students saw immediate benefits.
“We actually had one student in that course who got a new IT job as an analyst with a different company,” he said. “He was very specific telling me that, ‘Hey, they were asking during my interview about this cloud stuff because they do a lot of it. … That kind of helped me out.’”
Curtis Coleman and Damond Pope, both of whom work in IT at the College, took the class and enjoyed it. They would have preferred it be in-person instead of online, but understood that wasn’t possible.
Pope credited Pierce with making the switch online seamless, and said the best part was the guest speakers. One of them owned a cloud company that uses AWS.
“I thought it was great insight because he was giving us real world applications,” Pope said of the guest speaker. “For me, I’m sitting in there, ‘How does this translate?’ ‘How does this help my career?’ I think the guest that he had did a perfect job. I can’t speak highly enough of how he connected the dots.”
For Coleman, he really benefitted from connecting to classmates.
“When we had our Zoom meetings, we were able to interact as a whole, so we learned what our challenges could be if we wanted to work within AWS,” he said. “Just having the interaction in the Zoom meetings is what I looked forward to.”
One of the great things about the Amazon Educate program, said Pierce, is that isn’t not just for those in computer fields. The lessons it provides can be worked into almost any profession that uses computers or the cloud.
“A lot of the medical fields, we’re starting to get content supplied to them directly, trying to get that input into their curriculum,” said Pierce, adding that knowing how to track medical files and records via computers is important. “Those folks can go through this content and understand what it means to have something in the cloud.”
There are almost endless possibilities as to where the College can go with this partnership.
“We’re looking at offering this on the non-credit side as well for some of our partners,” Pierce said, including the military. “There’s going to be a pretty large gap between the current workforce and those that understand how cloud works here in the near future. Given where our position is in the Hamptons Roads region with a lot of military around us, there’s a very good chance that there’s going to be some hiring of folks who need the cloud education piece or have the certifications.”
Pierce said he also would like to explore the feasibility of the College offering a two-year degree in cloud computing.
“Those are some of the things we are exploring,” he said.
If you are interested in the program, visit tncc.edu to register for the spring semester, or contact Pierce at email@example.com or (757) 825-2743.