This Chicago startup is using apprenticeship to get low-income learners into tech

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Apprenticeship used to be the norm for skilled laborers, where experienced pros would help train the next generation.

However, forms of teaching that were more adept at training large numbers of workers eclipsed apprenticeship, and now the practice is largely left behind. But one Chicago marketer is working to bring it back to life, with benefits for both clients and apprentices.

The Alliance Labs, which aims to bring down the cost of marketing for smaller firms that don’t have standard marketing budgets, utilizes the help of apprentices to build custom websites for clients.

“There’s a ton of work out there in the digital media space and there’s a lot business for organizations that are not charging $200 an hour,” said founder Jon Schickedanz. “There’s a lot of business for people that have got $10,000, $20,000, $30,000 budget ranges.”

According to Schickedanz, those kind of jobs aren’t really attractive to agencies that have a lot of overhead or freelancers who don’t have the time for lower-priced contracts. At the same time, there are a lot of people trying to break into the industry with “a little knowledge about a lot of things,” Schickedanz said.

The apprenticeship model helps with both problems. Clients with lower budgets can get professional marketing and communications solutions. The Alliance Labs apprentices, called residents, get to work on professional projects alongside the pros, using them to answer questions, catch mistakes and act as mentors as they grow their career.

Residents help by putting together WordPress environments, editing pages and putting together wireframes, while the senior talent works on higher-level tasks like architecture and art direction behind websites.

chicago IT program

Schickedanz said he developed the idea after realizing the gaps that existed both in the training pipeline and the marketing communications industry. He had been working with i.c.stars, the project-based learning program for low-income adults. While the model provided valuable training, graduates still often needed help to land their first jobs in the industry.

The Alliance Labs helps to continue their training with on-the-job experience. About three times each year, around five residents are selected from i.c.stars. Those residents take two classes per week for four months, building up skills and taking on client work along the way.

While the residents are drawn from i.c.stars grads for now, Schickedanz says he may open it up to other potential apprentices in the future.

Graduates of the program have gone on to take on their own design work for clients independently, further study design in master’s programs and even opened their own business.

And with tech companies looking for applicants with diverse backgrounds and on-the-job experience, future grads should be well-positioned for the wealth of marketing positions available in Chicago.


Do IT certifications still matter? IT certifications are a hot topic. But are they necessary?

(Courtesy of Computer World)

IT certifications are a hot topic. While the industry continues to invest in them as a way to validate an employee’s skill set and capabilities — and while they’re often associated with salary increases — they’re time-consuming and expensive to complete.

A new report by Global Knowledge, an IT training and learning services company, explored the value of IT certifications in its 2017 IT Skills and Salary Report. How does your experience stack up? Here’s a look at its findings.

IT certifications benefit the business

Being certified improves workers’ performance, the report found. IT decision makers and staff reported direct benefits of certification, including performing work faster (44 percent), having sought-after expertise within their organization (39 percent), implementing system efficiencies (33 percent) and deploying products and services more efficiently (23 percent).

They also benefit your wallet

In the U.S. and Canada, certified IT staff make nearly $8,400 more than noncertified counterparts — equal to an 11.7 percent pay increase. For IT decision-makers, the difference is slightly lower, at 8.9 percent or $9,200.

4 in 5 IT employees have certifications

Eighty-two percent of IT workers today have certifications, the report found, with each of those people averaging about three. Half of the respondents earned their most recent certification within the last year.


Certifications lead to more certifications

IT pros who are currently certified are more likely to be pursuing new certifications, the report found. Seventy percent of those who have a certification are engaged in certification-focused training now, or have plans to do so in the coming year. This compares to 48 percent for those yet to earn their first certification; essentially, less than half of those who aren’t certified have taken the steps to change this status, even though there are economic benefits to doing so.

Microsoft certifications are big

This year, 36 percent of respondents report holding a Microsoft certification — more than any other type of certification. Next are Cisco certifications, which account for 31 percent of respondents; cybersecurity or privacy certifications (26 percent); CompTIA (22 percent) and ITIL/ITSM (21 percent). The most popular certification areas include: application development, database, cloud, help desk, networking, operating systems and servers, Linux, cybersecurity and virtualization.

Moneymaking certs are in cybersecurity

Certifications in cybersecurity hold the top spots for salary. This year, six of the top 20 are cybersecurity certifications and four are listed in the top five: ISACA’s CRISC, CISM, CISA and CISSP. Top cybersecurity certification salaries range from an average of $110,634 for a CISA certification to $127,507 for a CRISC certification. The next highest moneymaker is in cloud computing certs — specifically those from AWS –which reported 27.5 percent higher salaries than average ($101,755 versus $79,796).

Higher salaries, better work performance, business support and the proliferation of certifications in the workplace all point to a worthwhile investment. With no signs of slowing down, it’s a perfect opportunity to take advantage of their benefits.

Microsoft Offers Training: Active Duty Military and Honorable Discharge Service Members

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Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA)

Transform your love for computers and technology into your next career. Microsoft provides transitioning service members and veterans of the U.S. military the opportunity to develop the skills necessary to meet the IT industry’s high demand for cloud developers, cloud administrators, and database and business intelligence administrators. Upon successful completion of the program, participants gain an interview for a full-time job at Microsoft or one of our participating partners. Microsoft is the first IT industry business to provide formal training for service members before their separation date.


mssa requirements Strong interest in an IT career.

mssa military badge icon Command authorization and current honorable service status.

mssa required documents Applicants should work with their Base Education Center and Transition Center to submit the following documents or proofs of status:

  • Copy of your service record for Education Center
  • Resume
  • High school diploma or GED certificate
  • Successful completion of high school algebra
  • Gain a Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) certification

 Applicants must meet the admission requirements for the academic institution administering the course.

mssa process icon MSSA is open to both current service members with a scheduled discharge date and to honorably discharged service members. All candidates must attend an MSSA Information Session at their Base Education Center and complete a screening interview with an education counselor.

mssa process  Active duty service members must:

  • Secure command approval to participate
  • Complete and sign an MOA and return it to the education office
  • Submit a resume, proof of honorable service status, proof of math requirements and financial aid applications (program voucher, GI Bill or FAFSA)
  • Begin thinking about your specific IT career path by reviewing Microsoft Virtual Academy training options (see Preparation section below).
  • Gain a MTA certification

mssa icon  Discharged service members must:

  • Submit a resume, DD-214 proof of honorable discharge, criminal background check, high school diploma or GED, proof of math requirements, and financial aid applications (program voucher, GI Bill or FAFSA)
  • Begin thinking about your specific IT career path by reviewing Microsoft Virtual Academy training options (see Preparation section below).
  • Gain a MTA certification

more information  Click the link below to be directed to Microsoft Military Training page to learn more. MSSA Training :

  • To learn more about MSSA or apply for the program, please contact your Base Education Center.
  • If you are not located at a base where MSSA is currently provided, please ask your Education Counselor or Transition Center representative to connect you to the Regional Career Skills Program Manager for options.
  • For more information, contact the MSSA Operations team at


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