Cisco has set an ambitious new goal to provide digital and cybersecurity skills training to 25 million people over the next 10 years, as part of its Networking Academy program, and this year marks the 25th anniversary since Cisco launched “NetAcad” to address the global skills shortage.
Networking Academy is a skills-to-job program, which prepares people around the world for in-demand information technology jobs. Cisco develops the courses and tools, and partners with the government, academia and nonprofit organizations to train people for careers in networking, cybersecurity and software development. In addition to IT and cybersecurity courses, the program provides hands-on learning via an education platform.
The program is unique in the industry. I have followed the learning and certification program at Cisco since my days as an engineer and have looked for something comparable but have been unable to identify one. There are dozens of technology companies which have certification programs, but Networking Academy is the only holistic program that builds skills and leads to certification and ultimately to employment.
In the Networking Academy ecosystem, there are more than 11,800 academies that teach courses, including high schools, vocational colleges, universities and nonprofits. The program has also reached prisons, community centers, military bases and underserved citizens. To date, more than 17.5 million people have participated in courses to gain digital skills. The vast majority of the students — 95% — have taken Cisco certification-aligned courses, resulting in a job or an education opportunity.
Networking Academy started out with a few high school partnerships back in 1997. Today, the partner list has grown to include a variety of companies. Cisco recently added a new Networking Academy partner — a company called Experis that specializes in IT professional resourcing and project services. Together with Cisco, Experis will offer learning paths toward careers where there is demand for skilled workers. Experis’ goal is to place 1,000 people in IT, cybersecurity, networking, programming and data jobs.
Over the years, Cisco has been diligent in expanding the program to an increasingly diverse audience. An example of this is Cisco bringing Networking Academy to historically Black colleges and universities. It has also run several initiatives to increase the number of female participants. About 26% of Networking Academy have been female, but that number started at almost zero 25 years ago and has seen a steady increase year over year.
A few years ago, Cisco shifted its mission from “Changing the way we work, live, learn and play” to “Powering an inclusive future for all,” and Networking Academy is the ultimate manifestation of that as it has created opportunities for many people in unfavorable situations. For example, in some countries, local jobs can be extremely scarce but people who have gone through Networking Academy are able to work remotely for foreign companies. I’ve personally talked to people from third world countries and low-income areas of First World countries who credit Networking Academy for their current livelihood. Creating opportunities where none existed previously is the definition of “inclusive.”
Last year, Cisco further expanded Networking Academy by introducing a free program called Skills for All, which offers self-paced courses, interactive tools, and career resources designed by industry experts. Skills for All tailors every learner’s experience to their unique career goals and interests. Anyone with an internet-connected mobile phone can tap into the program’s adaptive learning technology, videos and built-in gamification.
Cisco has since expanded Skills for All to include entry-level certification for cybersecurity. Through the Skills for All Cybersecurity Learning Pathway, a person can earn a Certiport IT Specialist Cybersecurity Certification and increase the chances of landing a job there. Cybersecurity technician, junior cybersecurity analyst and help desk support are some examples of the entry-level positions where the certification would be useful.
According to Cisco, the cybersecurity certification deepens its commitment to building an inclusive future for all. At the height of the pandemic, Cisco conducted research that uncovered the realities of the digital divide. It exists not only in developing countries, but also in rural areas and impoverished communities in the U.S. Cisco’s 2020 Inclusive Future Report found there are 3.8 billion people worldwide who are still not connected to the internet. Cisco vowed to continue investing in education and IT skills to shrink the digital divide.
Its newly stated goal of training 25 million people in 10 years, announced Tuesday, is an aggressive one but certainly a necessary one. We are in the midst of a massive change in skills requirements due to automation, digitization and automation. Although it’s true these trends will kill off some jobs, they will also create tens of millions of new jobs. Networking Academy continually changes its curriculum to be current and people going through it today will be in a prime position to capitalize on this transition in skills that are most in demand.