While Ellicott City resident Jean Pak has a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in information technology and work experience in programming, she faced a major obstacle when she looked for a new job: She didn’t have a security clearance.
Now Pak is on her way to earning a clearance through AT&T Catapult, a new apprenticeship program at Howard Community College that launched in January.
Pak, who is married, had been taking a few classes here and there at Howard Community College during the day while her children were at school. A professor suggested she earn a degree in cybersecurity and Pak is doing so.
Being enrolled gave Pak the opportunity to apply for the apprenticeship and, out of 110 applicants, Pak was accepted into the first cohort of 14 apprentices.
Pak and her fellow members are being sponsored by AT&T to go through the process of receiving a security clearance. The process can take 18 months to two years. While they wait, the HCC apprentices are working for AT&T at least 20 hours a week in nonsecurity clearance areas.
“The [security] clearance quite frankly is the entry to the [IT] game,” Knute Olson, client executive vice president of AT&T Global Public Sector, said in an interview.
“The market we are in right now [in] Maryland and Virginia is highly competitive. There are more open jobs than the people who have received their security clearance,” Olson said.
While they work at AT&T as a specialist in either IT field support, network field support or information systems security and receive a salary, the students also take mandatory classes at HCC that coincide with the apprenticeship track. AT&T has a tuition reimbursement program as well.
Olson had the idea a few years ago to create a program to bring in people who have IT experience but not security clearances, and help them get cleared and refine their skills.
“We can get them cleared and they can come in with skills … and our success rate would [become] much higher,” Olson said.
The hope is once the apprentices are cleared, they could begin working full time, he said.
“AT&T is a big company so there’s a lot of opportunities,” Pak said. “They make you feel welcomed; they treat us like full-time employees.”
Rose Volynskiy, chair of the college’s technology department and a computer science professor, said the IT apprenticeship is providing students with “unique [and] hands-on experiences.”
“There is a shortage of talents in cybersecurity … companies are always looking for talent,” Volynskiy said. “[AT&T] can find talent at HCC and mold the students to fit AT&T’s needs.”
It’s a good collaborative effort between AT&T and the college, Volynskiy said.
Amrita Assim, of Ellicott City, who has an associate degree in accounting, applied for the apprenticeship at the last second. She is studying network administration and completing a cybersecurity certification at HCC.
Assim, who is married and has young children, said the apprenticeship is a great opportunity.
“It’s a little more challenging to have the job, the school and the kids. It’s a lot of work, but it will be well worth it in the end,” Assim said.
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Adrienne Summers, director of apprenticeships and workforce innovation at Howard Community College, said the college’s apprenticeship program is “meeting an employment and community need.”
Other programs include construction management, biomedical engineering, and heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration.
“We help students map out that pathway to be considered or put them on another pathway to be considered for a different apprenticeship,” Summers said.
Working with the college’s career services office, Summers said prospective applicants can receive resume help and interview tips and can ask questions about placement tests.
The application period for the IT apprenticeship for the fall semester starts March 13 and will last approximately two weeks.
Students who don’t currently attend Howard Community College can also apply to the program, but they first have to be enrolled in the college. While there is no age limit for the apprenticeship, students have to be at least 18 years old to apply.