Front Range Community College Blog

Hands-On Training for Computer Networking Students

Industry in Colorado finds it difficult to fill “middle-skills” positions – the jobs skilled technicians fill. There’s research to back this up from Burning Glass. It found that middle-skill jobs in Colorado take 16 percent longer to fill than middle-skills jobs in the rest of the country.

Manufacturers, as a subset of industry, have an even harder time. It takes 21 percent longer to fill Colorado manufacturing jobs than in the rest of the country. FRCC has responded to the need of the manufacturers with training programs in Precision Machining and Manufacturing and Energy Technology.

IT Industry Needs Technicians.

The IT industry in Colorado and around the country faces similar challenges in filling the “middle-skills” digital jobs. A new computer networking lab, designed to specifically address the “middle-skills” gap, began operation at the Boulder County Campus this semester. Other FRCC campuses already have similar networking labs.

One objective of the new networking lab is to provide students with valuable hands-on experience in networking while they pursue their certificates and degrees.

Another objective is to prepare students to succeed in CompTIA certification exams such as Network+, Linux+, Security+ and A+. CompTIA is a well-respected global nonprofit trade association, which has certified millions of IT professionals. The digital workforce of tomorrow will need many more technicians than engineers and architects.

FRCC, CCCS, Skillful and Linkedin.

At a broader level, FRCC and Colorado Community College System (CCCS) colleges have partnered with the Markle Foundation’s Skillful initiative to respond to the “middle-skills” gap. Skillful uses technology to connect job seekers, employers and educators in the modern, digital labor market.

Skillful recently visited FRCC and spoke with Shah Bhatti, faculty in the Computer Information Systems program at the Boulder County Campus, and included some of his thoughts in the video at https://www.skillful.com/educators.

Students, IT Staff Built Networking Lab.

Shah needed a lab that was independent of the college’s production network. The lab had to be segregated from the production IT network so that students could experiment with network traffic without impacting the business of the college. For example, students must generate and capture network traffic to analyze the Protocol Data Units (PDU).

So with a substantial grant from federal Perkins funds for hardware and networking equipment, Shah’s students, in collaboration with the campus IT staff, built the network lab over the semester break. It’s a standard production network but separate from the college networks. The students, some of them veterans of the military, did the wiring, set up the wall outlets, made the patch cables, connected the punch down block to the path panel on the equipment rack and installed switches, routers and servers. Talk about hands-on training for computer networking students – this was the real deal.

“Our students did a professional job,” Shah says. “It was a total team effort. This network measures up to industry standards. We have a world-class lab now. It’s a blazing fast network.”

Teaching Skills IT Industry Needs.

Now comes the challenge of teaching the students the skills industry needs. “How do we match students to the new skills?” Shah asks. “With accelerated training,” he answers. “We have created guided pathways that lead students to success and help them acquire the necessary skills in a very short time.”

FRCC has short-term networking certificates that can be earned in one or two semesters:

  • Computer Technician: Network+: Students are prepared to take the CompTIA Network+ certification exam.
  • Linux Server Administration: Students learn to install, configure, and manage Linux operating systems. Students are prepared to take the CompTIA Linux+ certification exam.
  • Microsoft Server Administration: Students are prepared for a role as a network administrator and for the core Microsoft Certified Professional exams leading to MCSA and MCSE.
  • Networking Basics: Students are prepared for certification exams for CompTIA A+, CompTIA Networking+, Microsoft Technology Association (MTA) Security Fundamentals and MTA Networking Fundamentals.
  • Network Infrastructure: Students are prepared for careers installing, configuring and troubleshooting networking hardware and be prepared to take entry-level CISCO certifications.
  • Network Technician: Students learn the basic concepts and skills needed to be a network technician and be prepared for certification exams such as MTA.

Shah believes the new computer networking lab will help our Networking students build on the already-great reputation our graduates claim in Colorado.  This is an example of how community colleges, in general, and FRCC, in particular, are responding to the “middle-skills” gap and meeting the needs of the industry.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Feeley is director of public relations at Front Range Community College.