IT Competitions Unleash Critical Thinking and Hone Job Skills

by Tae Yoo
Aug 7, 2015 10:25 AM ET

One year from now more than 10,500 athletes from 205 National Olympic Committees will put their skills and perseverance to the test at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Next year’s medal winners may go on to become professional athletes, role models, and commercial spokespeople – for many, the visibility and success they achieve in front of an international audience launches their careers.

Most of us are familiar with the world’s largest international multi-sport event. But it might surprise you to learn that next week a different kind of global competition will take place in Brazil. Instead of tennis, swimming, or gymnastics, next week’s participants will show off their abilities in 50 professional fields – ranging from carpentry and cooking to robotics and web design.

Held every two years, the WorldSkills competition inspires and prepares today’s young people to become the skilled professionals of tomorrow. Participants also gain hands-on experience that helps them stand out with employers.

The Internet of Everything economy will create many opportunities for creative, tech-savvy people everywhere. As a WorldSkills Global Partner, Cisco provides networking infrastructure and sponsors an entire segment of the competition – IT Network Systems Administration, or Skill #39.

The Power of Competition
During competitions like WorldSkills, people use their critical thinking skills. “You are comparing your ability to use learned concepts, and this allows you to have your own discovery-based evaluation of your skills,” said Bob Schoenherr, designer, content developer, and technical lead for the similar Cisco Networking Academy NetRiders Competition. “By competing, you allow yourself to grow and expand your learning process before entering the workforce.”

WorldSkills CEO Davis Hoey says Skill #39 is an important part of the competition because “it’s impossible to find an organization, community, or country of any type or size anywhere in the world that doesn’t rely on information technology and the Internet.”

Competitions like WorldSkills give Cisco Networking Academy students and other young people a chance to practice their skills in computer networking and gain recognition among IT professionals. Participants prepare for Skill #39 with Cisco Networking Academy curriculum, hands-on activities, and interactive learning tools. For example, Packet Tracer, a simulation tool that allows Networking Academy students to create virtual networks, is used each day of the WorldSkills competition as a part of the assessment process.

A Solution for the IT Skills Shortage
Investing in Networking Academy, NetRiders, and WorldSkills is part of Cisco’s commitment to build tomorrow’s workforce of global IT problem solvers. Jobs requiring expertise in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are going unfilled because there is a global shortage of these skills. According to a study by ManpowerGroup, 35 percent of global employers have difficulty filling jobs; 48 percent of U.S. respondents attribute the challenge to the lack of technical competency among candidates.

Despite all of these unfilled jobs, many young people are struggling to find work. Currently, nearly 75 million people between the ages of 15 and 24 are unemployed.

People who develop skills in networking and other technology fields have a major advantage because many of the fastest-growing occupations require such skills. For example, the demand for information security analysts in the United States is expected to grow 37 percent by 2022.

Skill #39 gives competitors real hands-on experience that employers look for. Jean-Philippe Desbiens, a Cisco Networking Academy student from Montreal, Canada, competed in WorldSkills in Leipzig, Germany in 2013 and says it has helped him in his current position as a laboratory administrator at Cisco. It’s easy to see why, given what competitors must do during the four-day competition.

“I had to be a master of Cisco (voice, security, routing and switching), Microsoft, VMware and Linux, because the competition was covering all these aspects in four intense days,” Jean-Philippe said. “I had to master a lot of technologies, because at each competition day, I had a specific implementation case which normally would take 16 to 24 hours to realize. I had to do each of them in 3 hours and 45 minutes without Internet access or notes.”

“WorldSkills was helpful in my career path because it pushed me to strengthen my technical abilities, and exposed me to problem-solving scenarios that I had not seen before,” said Matt Vicari, a Networking Academy student and U.S. competitor in WorldSkills 2011, who is now employed as a network engineer at Dycom Industries.

As people, process, data, and things become more connected in the Internet of Everything, the demand for top IT talent will grow. Cisco will continue to build the workforce of tomorrow through innovative programs like Networking Academy and by supporting competitions like WorldSkills.

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