Wherever one turns for employment these days, information technology skills likely will be required.
Because of that demand, the state Legislature earmarked $1.5 million in the 2013-2015 biennial budget to support funding for the Microsoft IT Academy, which has rolled out through more than 380 libraries statewide.
The program is a partnership between the Washington State Library and Microsoft.
Libraries across the state that participate in the program will provide customers access to more than 250 Microsoft application training courses. The Pierce County Library System unveiled the program in its 18 libraries on Nov. 12.
“It is streamlined where the same programs will be offered at all the Pierce County libraries,” said Jaime Prothro, customer experience manager for the library system. “The course offerings are pretty amazing.”
Rand Simmons, director of the Washington State Library, said the program will be funded through June 2015.
“I’m hoping the Legislature will re-fund the program and that the funding will continue,” Simmons said. “I’m hoping that this will be such an overwhelming thing for our economy, and for individuals of our state, that it will be a no-brainer to re-fund.”
Simmons said some libraries started the program in late October after they completed training. Many libraries waited until mid-November during media rollout events, he said.
The Microsoft IT Academy offers a self-paced and self-directed online class with hands-on practice to improve computer skills and become more proficient with Microsoft applications, according to a library news release.
Library staff members said training is available around the clock from any computer with Internet access. In order to enroll, customers need an email address, a Microsoft account and an access code.
Access codes can be picked up at any of the 18 county library branches. Individuals must have a Pierce County Library card or Washington State ID to request an access code.
“We have public Internet stations available throughout the course of our hours of operation, part of our standard services,” Prothro said. “Library patrons can access the service from their home computer.”
More information can be found on the Pierce County Library website, Prothro said.
Within the first week, Prothro said 175 people entered the IT Academy webpage and created an account.
“One customer went into the Orting library on Nov. 12 to specifically get a library card to sign up for the IT Academy,” Prothro said. “In January, we’re finalizing a new calendar of adult computer classes, and one of the classes we’ll be introducing is an introductory class on how to sign up for the IT Academy and navigate the IT Academy website.”
The $1.5 million in state funding pays for each participating library’s site license, Simmons said.
“Microsoft discounts the courses 90 percent,” he said.
So far, Simmons said he and his staff members have purchased 400 site licenses. With about 387 libraries in the state signed up for the program, Simmons said they’ll look to purchase more site licenses beyond the allotted 400.
“We should be able to bring in all the libraries into the program,” he said.
Simmons said four-year university libraries are not part of the program. The Legislature provided funding in recent years to bring the Microsoft IT Academy into state high schools.
Simmons said state funding does not support the cost for certification testing.
“You can take all the courses you might need to test for certification, but then you would have to pay for the certification test,” Simmons said. “It’s still a great bargain, because you can pay thousands of dollars for some of these higher-level IT courses.”Reporter Andrew Fickes can be reached at 253-552-7001 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @herald_andrew.