Although numerous students in Moldova graduate each year with information technology (IT) degrees, companies there struggle to find qualified candidates. The programs are filled with theoretical courses that give students an abstract base, but leave them without the practical skills to find top jobs. The business community and academia partnered to reshape the two courses.
Tatiana Cotiga grew up in the village of Colonita in central Moldova. She thought her career would be in business and she earned a degree in economics from the College of Finance and Banking. She then enrolled in the Academy of Economic Studies (ASEM), intent on further study of economics. But her older brother, who works in information technology, encouraged her to consider a career in IT — one of Moldova’s most promising sectors.
At the time, however, Tatiana, who is interested in innovative things, found most IT courses too theoretical and outdated. Corneliu Iacto, head of the IT department at Südzucker Moldova SA, the country’s leading sugar beet processor, knows this well. It took him more than a year to find a qualified candidate for his team. Sergiu Tutunaru, a professor in the IT department at ASEM, is also familiar with this problem.
To encourage local schools to tackle this challenge, the USAID Competitiveness Enhancement and Enterprise Development project took Dr. Tutunaru and other representatives from Moldovan colleges and universities to visit a Microsoft and Cisco IT academy in Romania. When Dr. Tutunaru returned home, he was determined to open Moldova’s first Microsoft IT Academy.
A key element of his strategy was to partner with local Microsoft-certified professionals to serve as instructors at the IT Academy. “The idea of bringing together university professors and representatives from the business community was great and it worked to our mutual advantage,” says Dr. Tutunaru. USAID’s Competitiveness Enhancement and Enterprise Development Project helped ASEM receive authorization from Microsoft to open its IT Academy, provided textbooks and promotional materials, and paid for ASEM’s initial membership fees.
Soon afterwards, Mr. Iacto, a Microsoft-certified systems engineer, agreed to teach the first Microsoft classes at ASEM. “At first I did not see myself as a teacher, but I became very excited after almost all my students passed the first exam,” he said. “It’s been very beneficial and rewarding.” By partnering with certified professionals, ASEM professors who will eventually teach the courses can learn the material with their students as they prepare for certification.
Outside instructors also bring real-life examples into the classroom. In 2008, Tatiana participated in a USAID-organized IT Career Fair and learned about new interactive Cisco networking courses available at the College of Finance and Banking. She was among the first to sign up. The Cisco modules, also developed with USAID support, provided her with a foundation in networking and emphasized decision-making and problem-solving skills needed to resolve networking issues.
“I enjoyed the course so much that after less than a month, I made a decision to change my major from economics to IT,” Tatiana says. “I benefited from every second of my Cisco networking course; its well-structured and interactive nature helped me discover a real fascination for IT.”
She also enrolled in the Microsoft IT Academy course at ASEM. She attributes much of her interest to the strong faculty at the college and ASEM, many of whom became Cisco and Microsoft trainers with USAID’s support. Both schools have recognized the importance of instruction that aligns with the needs of the labor market.
As of April 2010, USAID’s support for the Cisco courses had allowed 300 Moldovan high school and university students like Tatiana to learn cutting-edge, marketable IT skills. From the IT Academy’s inception in November 2008 through early March 2010, 160 students enrolled in Microsoft courses, and two instructors were trained. Next year, ASEM plans to expand its offerings. The school is already receiving requests from local businesses for recommendations on whom to hire. Students completing Microsoft courses are highly sought after.
Tatiana has completed two modules and is on her way to becoming a Cisco-certified network associate. She expects to receive her certificate in the fall of 2010. She also is enrolled in a Microsoft IT Academy Web-programming course offered at ASEM. She knows the Cisco and Microsoft courses on her resume will give her a competitive edge.