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CompTIA Tackles Tough Issues of Our Time

At ChannelCon 2018, the IT member association's execs talked with ChannelPro about industry challenges they are addressing head-on, and how they are positioning members to thrive in the future. By Colleen Frye with Joel Zaidspiner

The graying of the IT channel. The skills gap. A less-than-full pipeline of talent. Lack of diversity. These are all heavy issues that IT membership association CompTIA Inc. has been addressing head-on while it works to prepare the legacy channel and its members for the emerging technologies and business models of the future.

Efforts to bring more young people and adults from other professions into the tech industry were on display at this year’s ChannelCon, the annual conference hosted by Downers Grove, Ill.-based CompTIA. In his state of the industry remarks to attendees on Wednesday, CompTIA President and CEO Todd Thibodeaux detailed his own personal story of how he came to work in the technology industry in connection with a new initiative called My Tech Story. By chronicling his and others’ journey to their tech careers, Thibodeaux hopes to inspire individuals to choose to work in the industry, even if they take a nontraditional path.

In an interview with ChannelPro earlier this week, Thibodeaux pointed to a partnership between CompTIA and the Technology Student Association (TSA), a nonprofit organization of middle and high school students who are engaged in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), as another critical step toward that goal. “We're trying to use that as a platform to reach middle school and high school students to try to get them to the doorway of exploring a tech career,” he said.

Through efforts like My Tech Story and the TSA partnership, Thibodeaux hopes to start filling the IT workforce pipeline and address the skills gap. He acknowledges, however, that the effort will take time. “This isn't something that we'll be able to solve overnight,” he says.

According to Thibodeaux, channel and technology companies need to seek talent from nontraditional avenues just as CompTIA is. “I think that's where everybody's really falling short,” he says. “They're still looking for the people who have a college degree, people who have some previous tech experience. But the bottom line is, most of those people are already working for somebody else.” To fill open positions more effectively, Thibodeaux continues, channel pros should “look beyond their traditional places that they would shop for employees and look for people [who] have a high school [education] and maybe a little bit of tech school, or people who have gone the community college route, or people who are transitioning from other careers.”

As he noted at last year’s ChannelCon, Thibodeaux believes there’s more of a confidence gap than a skills gap in IT. “The truth is, anybody can work in IT if they have the gumption to do it and they have the drive," he says. “We have to get them over that [confidence] hump. The way to get them over that hump is to show them people like them that have already done it.”

The other problem, he says, is that the small business people who need those employees the most don't necessarily have the time for outreach. “We need to create some mechanisms and make it easier,” Thibodeaux contends.

For instance, CompTIA has been talking with the Trump administration about grants to develop apprenticeship frameworks, and acquired two training companies in March that will assist in preparing people for certifications. “We're working with our training partners, we're trying to get the message out that not everybody has to go to college, says Nancy Hammervik, executive vice president of industry relations. There are great careers happening out there that you can get with technical certifications, even right out of high school.”

Tackling lack of diversity in the tech industry will also help fill the pipeline, Thibodeaux believes, but just as importantly it will fuel innovation. “The research continues to show that the companies with the most diversity tend to make the most innovative decisions, tend to be the most profitable, he says. “The tech industry is global. Being able to have that diverse perspective really helps companies deal with overseas markets, [and] deal with different customer bases. If your customer base is getting more diverse, you have to get more diverse as a company.”

According to Thibodeaux, CompTIA has been addressing these issues through its Advancing Diversity in Technology (ADIT) Community, launched last year, the Advancing Women in Technology (AWIT) Community, and the Future Leaders Community.

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