UW System query: Career change, anyone?

From the pages of In Business magazine.

This summer, while the “game-changing” Foxconn was sucking up all the oxygen, the University of Wisconsin System fired up a new online program to close the skills gap — or, rather, body gap — in the state workforce.

If the grandest vision of Foxconn comes to fruition, Wisconsin technical colleges and universities will have to step up their game. Before the big announcement, it already was clear that Wisconsin needs more information technology professionals. One way to get more IT pros is to induce people to change careers. This fall, five UW campuses will offer a new Bachelor of Science degree in applied computing that’s designed to attract career-changers to IT. With ongoing innovation in the big three industries — agriculture, manufacturing, and health care — Wisconsin employers need tech workers with software engineering skills, programming and coding expertise, and soft skills in communications and leadership.

The UW System’s response will offer bachelor’s degrees in computer science in four ways: online, on-campus coursework, as a hybrid of both online and on-campus, and through the UW Flexible Option. The average age of online students is in the mid-30s, many have families, and the majority work full-time, so the flex option allows them to advance at their own pace. That means quickly if they have previous experience in a given field.

The online format also makes it easier for those already in IT, as well as career-changers, to qualify for open positions. David Schejbal, dean of the University of Wisconsin–Extension, and Amy Kuether, applied computing program manager for the UW– Extension, note the program was developed with faculty and industry input and with needed job skills in mind. “The average age of our students is in their mid-30s,” Schejbal says, “but the age span goes well into the 60s. We have a number of folks who want a second career or who are in a position to pursue a personal passion.”

That career transition should lead to a higher-paying occupation, Kuether adds. “It definitely enables, particularly those who were working in the field and have an associate degree or a two-year degree, the opportunity to advance their careers and pursue occupations with higher earning potential.”

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