ARPA-Funded EduTech Aims to Meet Workforce's Needs by Providing Skills for Entry Tech Jobs

Aug. 1, 2022, 5:30 a.m. ·

Kathy Najjar speaks to the first students of EduTech
Kathy Najjar, the program coordinator, said the goal for EduTech is to equip students for entry-level technology jobs. (Photo by Will Bauer, Nebraska Public Media News)

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A Lincoln nonprofit kicked off its first ever technology classes on Friday, targeted to help those who are changing careers or who simply need help developing skills to find jobs.

“The goal is to get people into the workforce in early-entry level tech jobs,” said Kathy Najjar, the program coordinator of EduTech.

Hosted by the Center for People in Need, EduTech is free for its students. It’s funded by the $600,000 share the city of Lincoln received from the American Rescue Plan Act.

EduTech participants will study at their own pace for an estimated 10 hours per week for four to six months to complete a Google Career Certificate, according to organizers. The participants can choose from courses in data analytics, IT support, project management or user experience design.

“Our goal is to help you get to where you want to get,” Amber Knapp, project director at American Job Center of Lancaster and Saunders Counties, told the first round of students on Friday morning.

The job center partnered with the Center for People in Need on this endeavor to meet the needs of a changing workforce.

“The biggest skill is [that] it shows that they're willing to do the time and invest in themselves,” Najjar said.

So far, EduTech has 25 participants in its first group of students. Najjar and the Center for People in Need have 100 scholarships for Google certificates in their first year, she said.

Google directed the Center of People in Need to target underrepresented communities, Najjar said. That aligns with the nonprofit’s existing programs, which focus on helping low income Nebraskans learn English, pick up food or educate those who are formerly incarcerated.

“There are a lot of people that walk into this building who've never touched a computer,” Najjar said.

While the classes are online and students can complete the work when they please, Najjar said she and other staff at the Center for People in Need hope to provide a more traditional classroom environment.

“They have a chance to get together,” Najjar said. “They can talk to people. They can complain together: ‘Oh, this is really hard.’ They can help each other.”

Even though Najjar feels education’s future includes more remote or online components, she said she wants to keep a classroom feel for those who need it.

Timothy Okoliko will be one of those students.

“I’m so excited because I’m here to learn about data analysis,” Okoliko said. “The world is being driven by data now.”

Timothy Okoliko stands for a portrait
Timothy Okoliko (Photo by Will Bauer, Nebraska Public Media News)

Okoliko moved to the U.S. last fall from Nigeria. His wife is pursuing a graduate degree at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and he hopes to do the same one day. After a career in agricultural banking in his home country, Okoliko said he wants to add new skills to résumé.

“You need data to measure results,” he said. “If you're doing good – if you're not doing good – you need data. You need data for everything you do in life now.”

Okoliko said he doesn’t know whether he and his wife will stay in the U.S. long term or if they’ll move back to Nigeria. Right now, he said he’s enjoying Nebraska.

“It's a community I would love to give back to,” he said. “I've been here for a short while, and we’ve experienced the love of every Nebraskan in Lincoln. I really am looking forward to giving back to Lincoln.”

Through the partnership with the American Job Center, Okoliko and his classmates will be enrolled in the city’s Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act program, which will give them access to internship opportunities and other support.

“There are jobs that go away and there are new jobs that appear,” Najjar said. “Having some flexibility to teach yourself a new thing, and then to move on to the next thing, that's what this is all about.”