IT training offers job growth potential

IT training offers job growth potential by David Lias Consumers are usually wary of "work at home" offers that just seem too good to be true.

People in Wakonda and the surrounding area, however, have an opportunity to receive training and put their newly learned skills and personal home computers to work in the Information Technology (IT) field.

Dakota State University has selected Wakonda and area residents to be involved in a Rural Information Technology Employment Link (RITE-Link) project.

Interested citizens are encouraged to attend a May 7 meeting to learn more about the program and how to participate. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in the old gym at Wakonda High School.

The goal of this project is to train individuals in the IT field and employ them in rural communities.

The objective of the Rural Information Technology Employment (RITE) Link is to develop high level IT skills in rural communities to help meet the current IT worker shortage. The intensive IT training program will provide rural residents the skills needed to be productive IT workers.��

At the same time the project will facilitate the creation of IT employment opportunities in the rural communities and enable rural residents to work remotely for IT employers.

"There are a variety of different jobs that may come through with a variety of expertise," said Donald Johnson, Plankinton, Aurora County's economic director.

Johnson spoke with citizens from Wakonda, Vermillion and several other communities in the Wakonda area. His position is funded by Aurora County and a grant aimed to promote adult education and distance learning.

"At the May 7 meeting, we will talk to people who are interested," he said. "On May 10, we will meet again to get to specifics."

A separate, $1.7 million grant from the Information Technology Research Initiative received by Dakota State University in Madison last fall is helping make this program possible.

The Information Technology Research Initiative is a $90 million program of the National Science Program designed to spur research and applications of IT.

DSU has used this grant to create the RITE-Link project and has partnered with other communities in the state.

The university also has played a key role in recruiting business partners that can offer employment to individuals who complete the IT training. So far, Lodgenet in Sioux Falls, Schwan's in Marshall, MN and Martin and Associates in Mitchell have agreed to be partners.

Other businesses from throughout the United States are being recruited to participate in this project.

Interested Wakonda area citizens may begin to receive IT training as soon as this fall. The training will last from six to nine months via the Internet, video teaching, and some on-site instruction from DSU. Participants will be able to fulfill the training while maintaining a full time job.

"There are a variety of different jobs that may come through with a variety of required expertise," said Ron Flynn, superintendent of Wakonda schools. "There may be a range of pay from $20,000 to $60,000 per year."

"The goal of the grant is not to provide $7 per hour jobs for rural communities," Johnson said. "The goal is to provide higher paying jobs in rural communities."

There is a shortage IT workers, he added, noting there are as many as 800,000 jobs nationwide in the field left unfilled. That has businesses eager to utilize creative ways to fill their needs.

By using the Internet, he said, individuals in rural communities can use their IT skills to work for businesses who need employees without leaving home.

People interested in taking part in the training will be asked to fill out a form and share information about their current education and computer skills background.

"A community profile will be developed," Johnson said, "to determine the degree of training that will be needed. In some cases, there may be individuals in a community that are already highly skilled in the field."

For small, rural South Dakota communities like Wakonda, the RITE-Link project could be a godsend.

Farmers could spend their winter months earning extra income as a computer programmer, web designer, database analyst or system administrator.

Young people who leave home to earn a degree from a college or technical school would have an opportunity to return to their home towns to work at a good paying job � a positive impact on both an individual and community basis.

"The potential for growth is immense," Johnson said. "If we can accomplish our end of the bargain, I think this has a huge potential for growth and job creation."

Citizens with questions may call Johnson at 942-7415 or Flynn at 267-2644.

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