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Cisco Expanding Networking Academy to Aid U.S. Worker Training

CEO John Chambers explains how the company is partnering with government, non-profits and educational institutions to develop job training programs in broadband infrastructure, network security and healthcare information technology

July 14, 2009

Cisco Systems is turning to its highly regarded Networking Academy to launch the Workforce Retraining Initiative, a joint effort between the private sector and government to help retrain American workers. As part of the Initiative, Cisco will pilot new Networking Academy courses this fall at community colleges and universities in Michigan, one of the hardest hit states of the current economic recession.

At an event held at Macomb Community College in Warren, Michigan, the Workforce Retraining Initiative was lauded by President Barack Obama. The federal and state governments' focus on workforce retraining and job creation closely aligns with Cisco's belief that broadband infrastructure and healthcare modernization are critical areas that can help with both short-term economic recovery in the United States and long-term success for the country.

With 128,000 students in the U.S. and more than 750,000 students worldwide currently enrolled, the Cisco Networking Academy has an established track record of providing practical and effective education in crucial job skills for the Information Age.

News@Cisco spoke with John Chambers, Cisco's chairman and chief executive, about this new effort, which aims to not only help address the immediate needs of the unemployed but to also spur innovation and lay the foundation for sustained economic growth.

What are you announcing today?

John Chambers: We are announcing what we call the Workforce Retraining Initiative, which we are developing in conjunction with governmental organizations and educational institutions. The Obama administration has asked us all to do more and give back, and we thought about how we might harness our networking technology skills education program, the Networking Academy, to help in federal and state efforts to address unemployment. As a result, Cisco is now working to expand our current Networking Academy curriculum to include new educational courses related to broadband infrastructure and healthcare information technology.

The Networking Academy already offers technical certifications to people interested in information technology and networking communications education. But as part of our Workforce Retraining Initiative, we are adding to our current selection of classes with additional courses in security and other topics to provide a more advanced course of study for broadband technicians and engineers. This will be available in September through the 21 community colleges and universities in Michigan that already offer the Networking Academy.

And for healthcare, we are pioneering a completely new program in healthcare information technology at three community colleges and one university in Michigan. Through this pilot program, we hope to have a fully developed IT healthcare curriculum in place by January next year. If all goes well, we will work to offer the courses to other community colleges and universities in Michigan and then eventually to other states.

There are many job training and skills development programs in the United States. How can Cisco's Networking Academy help with U.S. unemployment in ways that other programs can't?

John Chambers: There are several aspects of the Cisco Networking Academy that make it uniquely capable of facilitating job training. Most importantly, it is a well-established and proven program for helping people throughout the world gain new skills for high-demand, well-paid technology-based jobs.

The Networking Academy is our longest running corporate social responsibility program. We started it in 1997 when we realized that simply donating our communications equipment to educational institutions was not enough. People needed training in how to install and use our products. We also realized that for Cisco to succeed and for society to gain the greatest advantages from Internet-based communications, we needed well-trained experts who could install and manage these new types of networks. I have always said that education and the Internet are the two equalizers in life, and I think the Networking Academy is a great example of that.

The program uses instructor-led Web-based courses, interactive tools and hands-on lab work to provide a rich and engaging learning environment. High schools, community colleges and other educational institutions adapt our courses to meet their particular educational goals. We do not charge educational institutions for this program. We estimate that since its inception in 1997 Cisco has invested more than $350 million into the Networking Academy.

Perhaps most important for addressing current unemployment, there are already more than 2,200 Networking Academies in the U.S., reaching 44 percent of the community college students in the country. The Obama administration is looking at community colleges in particular as key resources for creating new job training programs that will not only help Americans get back to work but also fuel the country's ability to innovate and compete well into the future. I think the Networking Academy is ideally positioned to help in these efforts.

Job training is traditionally the role of the government or non-profits. Why should a corporation get involved in such matters?

John Chambers: I believe that partnership between the public and private sectors is the most effective way to address social issues. Today, more than ever, government and the private sector need to join together. No one entity can do this sort of thing as effectively as governments, businesses and other institutions working collaboratively. By combining the unique capabilities and resources from Cisco, the federal government, state governments, local communities, and educational institutions, we have a very good chance of creating programs that can provide much-needed help during this recession, as well as building a foundation for the long-term success of the country.

"No one entity can do this sort of thing as effectively as governments, businesses and other institutions working collaboratively."

— John Chambers, Cisco Chairman and CEO

Also, I strongly believe that the most successful in life should also be the best at giving back, whether you are talking about an individual or a corporation. And Cisco believes that being a good corporate citizen isn't just the right thing to do, it's also good for business. We will always do what is best for our customers, partners, shareholders and employees, and we believe that giving back to society and the communities in which we work and live has a profound influence on our future.

As is becoming increasingly clear, the world is interdependent. A corporation can only be as successful as the society in which it does business. Cisco's Workforce Retraining Initiative is a great example of this idea. By helping train new networking professionals, people gain greater employment opportunities, businesses - including Cisco - gain the experts that are critical to building and running Internet-based networks, and the country gains the workforce and infrastructure it needs to remain competitive in today's global, digital economy. That, in my mind, is a win-win for all involved.

Isn't such a corporate program as the Networking Academy self-serving and designed to give Cisco an advantage over its competitors?

John Chambers: That's a very fair question. The Networking Academy is based on the philosophy that businesses can do well by doing good. The program ensures that Cisco has a great pool of talent to help our customers and partners install and run networking technology. Without such trained professionals, Cisco's customers and society in general can't make the most of the technologies we work so hard at inventing and refining. And certainly by having such trained professionals supporting our networks, our customers will be that much more satisfied with our products.

But given that, the Networking Academy is strictly an open program - it teaches general networking technology. We do not require the educational institutions or instructors to only teach about Cisco products. We offer our unique understanding of Internet-based communications as a resource to educators. It is up to them to use it as they wish. They can use it as is, or they can make it a part of broader instruction on different kinds of technology.

Also, the Networking Academy focuses on teaching how to run standards-based networks using Internet protocol. The skills and knowledge gained in our programs widely apply to any IP-based network, which these days are pretty much all new networks. So Networking Academy graduates can obtain jobs involving a broad spectrum of IT and networking equipment, not just Cisco's. The idea is to provide a foundation and a starting point with the Networking Academy. What the educators and students build from that is up to them, as it should be.

Why are you starting the new program in Michigan?

John Chambers: There are several reasons. First, Michigan is a place of focus for the federal government and Cisco because it has been one of the hardest hit states during this recession. In May the unemployment rate in Michigan was more than 14 percent, higher than in any other state. Also, many of those unemployed were displaced autoworkers who needed to transition from industrial-based jobs to high-tech and knowledge-based professions. So a program like the Networking Academy is well suited to the kind of education program required in Michigan.

Also, Michigan has made a major commitment to building a statewide broadband infrastructure to spur economic growth and improve government services. But Michigan will need local talent to build, run and take full advantage of its new broadband assets. We are already working with the state government on phase one of its broadband deployment.

Michigan is also focused on further modernizing its healthcare industry to help improve economic growth. Today, the healthcare industry is the leading employer in Michigan with more than 1 million jobs, and it's projected to be one of the fastest growing industries in the next few years. But, again, for people in Michigan to take advantage of these new jobs, they need training. And since many of these new positions in healthcare will be in various information technology disciplines, this is a great opportunity for the Networking Academy to help.

Why the focus on the broadband and healthcare industries in particular?

John Chambers: Broadband infrastructure and healthcare modernization are two crucial areas that will greatly influence the country's economic success long after this recession is over. As much as Americans need jobs, the U.S. needs people with skills in these disciplines. We need to continue to find ways to be competitive as a nation - if not, we risk falling behind in the new global economy.

Broadband communications networks are the commerce infrastructure of the 21st Century. Just as railroads helped America become a world power during the Industrial Revolution at the turn of the 20th century, and just as highways, automobiles and airplanes revolutionized modern society after World War II, the Internet and networking technologies are now the foundation for economic advancement, both for the country and its citizens.

According to leading research, every 1 percent increase in broadband infrastructure spurs a 0.2 to 0.3 percent growth in jobs. And the U.S. Department of Labor, for example, estimates more than 90,000 IP-related jobs become available every year in the U.S. So Internet communications is one of the great growth industries in America.

Healthcare-based information technology is a particularly promising part of this transition to a networked economy. But from our research we have found there is a dramatic lack of educational programs that address this specialization, which requires the combination of traditional IT skills with the exacting requirements of hospitals and other medical facilities. So there is a great need for new educational programs that teach the skills necessary for modernizing our healthcare system. In the long term such efforts should greatly improve the quality of care while reducing costs, helping relieve businesses, governments and individuals of the economic burden caused by our current system.

Besides government partners, who else is Cisco partnering with to develop this program?

John Chambers: Initially, we are partnering with Macomb Community College, Henry Ford Community College, Oakland Community College, and Davenport University in Michigan to offer our pilot program in healthcare IT but WRI will be available at all 21 community college/university locations that Networking Academy is taught today.

We also intend to work with a variety of key partners, especially for developing our completely new healthcare information technology courses. For example, we are teaming with experts from Oregon Health & Sciences University, which runs an excellent medical informatics department and is certified by the American Health Information Management Association. We are also working with advisors from the Oregon Community Health Information Network, which strives to improve healthcare for uninsured patients in Oregon, Washington and California by putting their medical records online. In 2007 Cisco provided the organization a product grant to develop a similar program in Illinois. And now there's potential for further efforts by this group in Michigan.

Who is paying for this? What is Cisco's financial investment?

John Chambers: Cisco is committing several million dollars in course development and IT support to get the pilots up and running. The community colleges and universities will provide the instructors, classrooms and lab equipment. As we do for our other Networking Academy courses, Cisco will contribute its curriculum, but it is our hope that educational institutions will receive additional financial assistance to offer these programs and that students can continue to receive Pell Grants and Perkins Grants to take these courses.

How will you evaluate the success of the pilot programs, and what happens next?

John Chambers: The success of this effort will depend on how effective new courses are at attracting unemployed workers, training these students, and helping them obtain certifications and get new jobs. It will be up to Cisco and its partners to decide what is a reasonable success rate for the Workforce Retraining Initiative.

For developing the new healthcare program, we are starting small, focusing only on the pilot program, which will collectively take in about 2,000 students per semester through the four educational institutions in Michigan. We are confident that we can expand the program to additional colleges across Michigan as early as January, depending on our success with the initial pilot programs.

For our broadband program, Networking Academy courses are already available at 21 colleges and universities throughout Michigan, but, as mentioned, we will be expanding the existing course work at these Networking Academies in September, including new courses on network security. In addition, we are hoping to recruit other educational institutions in Michigan to participate in our Workforce Retraining Initiative.

We'll stay focused on Michigan in the first year, but the program will be designed to easily expand to other states. If we execute effectively - and if there is funding available for the community colleges and financial aid for the unemployed workers - we see no reason to limit this to Michigan.

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