Tackling the Global Shortage of Skilled Network Engineers

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New Cisco initiatives - the Cisco Learning Network and three new CCNA certifications - help accelerate the development of technical talent

June 24, 2008

By Jenny Carless

Cisco has taken another important step in its ongoing efforts to accelerate the development of technical talent across the globe with two new major initiatives, announced today at Cisco Live: The Cisco Learning Network and three new Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA®) concentrations.

The Cisco Learning Network is the industry's first social learning network. This collaborative, Web 2.0 site helps enable the creation of a global networking professional community that can share, discuss and exchange ideas in a dedicated online environment. Further, three new concentrations - CCNA Security, CCNA Voice and CCNA Wireless - extend the company's popular associate-level career certification, the CCNA, and offer individuals a career steppingstone in the converged technologies that make up today's sophisticated networks.

"We're already experiencing a lack of skilled network engineers, and without a concerted effort to address this issue, the number will continue to dwindle," notes Zeus Kerravala, analyst with Yankee Group. "That's not only bad for Cisco but for all companies that run on a network - which is just about everyone."

The supply of professionals with the technical expertise to manage sophisticated networks has been diminishing across all global theatres, with particularly strong shortfalls in converged and advanced networking technologies such as security, voice and wireless applications.

Skills Shortage Represents a Global Challenge

Global studies confirm the impending skills shortage.

Respondents to a recent global survey by The McKinsey Quarterly noted that finding talented people is likely to be the single most important managerial preoccupation for the rest of this decade. And according to a worldwide study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Cisco, there is a pervasive need for networking skills throughout multiple functions of current and future IT organizations. For example:

  • Eighty percent of surveyed companies expect to have a dedicated security role within five years, compared to 46 percent that have such a role currently.
  • Sixty-nine percent expect to have a dedicated voice role, compared to 40 percent that have that role now.
  • Sixty-six percent expect to have a dedicated wireless role, compared to 36 percent that have one currently.

The Cisco Learning Network and the new concentrations have been designed to help address this challenge.

"We're trying to find ways to scale the development of talent that the marketplace needs," says Jeanne Beliveau-Dunn, general manager, Learning@Cisco. "We are coming at the problem from two angles: first, bringing more people into the community; second, taking those who are already in the industry and helping to diversify their skills to meet the needs of the market by targeting the services that are now being designed onto the network, such as security, voice and wireless."

"Cisco is putting its money where its mouth is here, in a way that is going to allow engineers and others to harness the power of their own community."

— Zeus Kerravala, Yankee Group

These new efforts tie in to Cisco's larger pipeline of talent development, which includes the Cisco Networking Academy, the Cisco Global Talent Acceleration Program and other initiatives.

An Empowering Experience

The Cisco Learning Network creates a social networking experience that empowers Cisco community members (all customers, partners and employees) who are seeking knowledge, training, information and support as they start or enhance their careers through Cisco certifications.

Services offered include:

  • Career curriculum: training and certification roadmaps for specific job roles or careers, including online consulting tools to guide people through the certification process
  • Experience development: job listings, global simulation labs that can be rented by anyone, games and corporate-sponsored internships
  • Mentorship from all participants through an open forum and tools provided by Cisco and other members
  • Alternative experience with games, simulations and virtual internships
  • Employee recruitment and referral channels
  • An easy way to connect with a Cisco Learning Partner

"Because it's a collaborative site, employees, partners and customers can all communicate with one another," Beliveau-Dunn explains. "They can talk about their experiences in designing networks, share best practices, impart work experiences or what they find most effective in studying or understanding technologies in their career - really anything that interests them."

Content creation will also be a collaborative process.

"We're looking for customers and partners to help us develop the best content and the best learning services and tools in the market," Beliveau-Dunn notes. "We're not interested in being the only contributor; quite the contrary, we're looking for contributions from everyone."

"The main benefit I foresee is having a central repository for information - wikis, blogs and much more - which is going to be great for building community," says Terry Slattery, chief technology officer of Netcordia and one of the first Cisco Certified Internet Experts (CCIE).

"I remember an article that described a star engineer; its main point was that you must know the right people, so you can get answers quickly to tough problems that may be outside your area of expertise," he continues. "That's exactly what the Cisco Learning Network is going to provide. And of course companies are going to love it, too, because the faster their technical staff can get answers, the faster they can repair the network."

Building on the CCNA Foundation

The new suite of concentrations takes advantage of the foundation for careers in Cisco networking technologies, the CCNA certification:

  • CCNA Security validates installation, troubleshooting and monitoring skills of network devices to maintain the integrity, confidentiality and availability of data.
  • CCNA Voice validates voice application skills in voice over IP (VoIP) technologies such as IP PBX, IP telephony, handset, call control and voicemail.
  • CCNA Wireless validates a candidate's skills in the configuration, implementation and support of Cisco wireless local-area networks (WLANs).

The new concentrations will benefit both technician and employer. Certified individuals are more successful in their jobs, and these credentials will help prepare them for new career opportunities. For employers, the certifications can validate applicant experience, and hiring companies can keep up with the demands and changes to the network and prepare current staff for the evolving network infrastructure.

With the introduction of the Cisco Learning Network and new CCNA concentrations in security, voice and wireless, Cisco is addressing talent holistically as part of its overall globalization strategy - one that is dedicated to helping companies collaborate across borders and cultures and offer world-class service to customers, regardless of location.

"Cisco has talked about collaboration for a long time, and the Cisco Learning Network is clearly not something for companies simply to use internally. Rather, it provides a way to create a community of interest around the concept of networking," Kerravala says. "Cisco is putting its money where its mouth is here, in a way that is going to allow engineers and others to harness the power of their own community."

Jenny Carless is a freelance writer located in Santa Cruz, CA.

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