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A non-profit publication of the Office of the University Relations of Virginia Tech,
including The Conductor, a special section of the Spectrum printed 4 times a year

TekAid helps welfare recipients

By Carolyn Fray

Spectrum Volume 21 Issue 05 - September 24, 1998

The Virginia Tech Northern Virginia Center is partnering with Mitretek Systems, the Northern Virginia Regional Partnership, and the Fairfax County Department of Family Services to launch a cutting-edge welfare to work program.
Known as TekAid, the program is providing technology training focused on the Year 2000 or Y2K problem to a select group of 43 students currently receiving public assistance. TekAid has been designed to simultaneously meet the pressing needs of the Year 2000 problem while providing training and upward mobility for qualified welfare clients to work in the field of information technology.
"The region's information-technology workforce shortage challenges educators and businesses alike to develop innovative solutions," said Albert Wiswell, professor of adult learning and human-resource development at the Virginia Tech Northern Virginia Center and TekAid curriculum development executive. "TekAid provides the bridge to match unused human resources with unmet business needs."
Students receive 14 weeks of intensive training that includes course work in such areas as computer basics, college mathematics, and COBOL programming as well as hands-on instruction in software installation and hardware construction. In the final six weeks of training, most students will work in paid internships, performing basic programming tasks and becoming integrated into the business culture. Graduates will be qualified for positions as software maintainers, Y2K tool operators, configuration management clerks, and software testers.
"TekAid training is very intensive. It can be compared to `full-immersion' language study," said Lydia W. Thomas, president and chief executive officer of Mitretek Systems, Inc. "The intent is to have the same outcome, the subject rapidly becomes a part of you and the learning process is greatly enhanced."
In addition to technical training, students are receiving instruction on a wide variety of issues aimed at job readiness and development. Topics include resume preparation--both on paper and on the web, interview techniques, social and workplace conduct, and juggling the pressures of personal commitments with work life. For the first six months of employment, TekAid advisors will meet regularly with graduates to help ensure that they become successful employees. In addition, a continuing-education plan will be developed for each graduate to provide needed ongoing education and to prevent a return to welfare.
"The enthusiasm, discipline and interest shown by the students is truly inspirational," said Juan Diaz, self-sufficiency program manager at the Fairfax County Department of Family Services. "In spite of the rigors of the training and all the challenges the students have endured, they have never given up. They are committed to completing the TekAid program, advancing their education and working hard to provide their families a better future."
Graduates will receive 16 hours of college credit that can be applied within a one-year period to a certificate in information technology or an associate's degree from the Northern Virginia Community College.
The Northern Virginia TekAid Program is funded by the Fairfax County Department of Family Services and with a grant from the Northern Virginia Regional Partnership.