group photo of UC Davis Tech Talent Pathways program

IT Service Desk Pilot Forges New Paths, One Skill at a Time

Lifelong learning? New professional opportunities? A stronger community? Tech talent pipeline?  The IT Service Desk pilot checks all the boxes and more, with positive outcomes for everyone involved, from pilot participants to UC Davis, and the greater Sacramento community.  

6 Strategic Advances of the IT Service Desk Pilot

  1. Showcases innovative, lifelong educational programs
  2. Creates new paths to high-demand careers for local community members
  3. Expands the diversity of voices and perspectives at UC Davis and in higher education IT organizations
  4. Serves as a strategic recruiting pipeline for UC Davis
  5. Establishes new opportunities and collaborations between UC Davis and community partners
  6. Aligns with the university's commitment to its neighbors and communities of interest outlined in the Aggie Square Community Benefit Partnership Agreement and Anchor Institution efforts

    Launched in May 2023 and continuing through February 2024, the pilot provided the foundation for a career in IT to eight competitively selected participants, mostly women, from the larger Sacramento community. La Familia and the Greater Sacramento Urban League provided input in the selection and mentorship of the pilot cohort. “The IT Service Desk aligns with our Aggie Square Community Benefit Partnership agreement and Anchor Institution efforts, which reinforces our deep commitment to our neighbors,” says Sumiko Hong, Aggie Square Community Engagement Manager. Pending assessment, the program may continue into the future. 

    Many higher education institutions struggle to attract, build, and retain the IT workforce needed to maintain their technology infrastructure. As the second largest employer in the region, UC Davis has approximately 25,000 employees, including about 1,800 IT-related positions. In the past few years, the vacancy rate for some technical jobs has reached as high as 30 percent. The IT Service Desk program serves as a model for other institutions on how to create a pipeline of local talent that supports a larger IT recruitment strategy. 

    Program in a Nutshell: Lifelong Learning & Real Work Experience 

    Participants first attended twelve weeks of online training through UC Davis Division of Continuing and Professional Education (CPE). The technical curriculum followed the Google Certificate program and each student received "The Google IT Support Professional Certificate" when they completed the coursework.  In addition, students received training in professional and customer service skills, which are critical for client-facing technical support roles.   

    A five-month paid temporary position as a service desk analyst followed, where participants joined IT Express, a central IT support organization at UC Davis, in addition to receiving career counseling and support throughout the program.  

    UC Davis Tech Pathways students stand in a group in the classroom listening to a presenter

    As service desk analysts, members of the IT Service Desk pilot are the front lines of IT support for the campus, answering questions and troubleshooting issues for a wide range of technology services via email, phone, or chat from students, faculty and staff.  This hands-on experience alongside other employees of Information and Educational Technology (IET) at UC Davis provides them with valuable co-curricular skills and exposure to new and traditional career paths in the technology sector.  

    “The most beneficial aspect was the information provided at every level – from IT skills to personable skills, and information about the workforce in general,” one program participant wrote in a survey about their experience.  

    “This program is a case in point for breaking through barriers and creating new opportunities: in general, it is difficult to break into IT as a profession and the pilot provides this incredible runway for this year’s participants,” says Anita Nichols, executive director of Client Success (which also includes IT Express). “They will gain real-world, on-the-job experience in IT support. At the same time, our teams are stronger, benefit from even more diverse perspectives, and have even more capacity to support one of the busiest academic years at UC Davis.” 

    A New Framework for Postsecondary Education: Competency-Based Pathways  

    For more than 60 years, the UC Davis Division of Continuing and Professional Education has championed workforce and professional development programs for individuals and organizations. The belief that education is transformative for people’s lives and has the potential to build our economy, improve our communities, and enrich the lives of adult learners around the world is at the core of its mission.  

    UC Davis’s commitment to programs that support lifelong learning ensures that many receive access to the right education in the right format at the right time throughout their careers and lives. Non-degree and competency-based pathways such as micro-credentials and certifications are becoming more popular. Providing increased affordability and a focus on skill-based learning, these options are more attractive to today’s students who seek high-quality education and more flexibility in accessing educational opportunities.

    The 2023 EDUCAUSE Horizon Report: Holistic Student Experience Edition highlights: “As institutions implement these alternative options for learning, they will attract and serve more diverse groups of students and nontraditional learners, increasing access and equity on campuses and potentially impacting inclusion in positive ways.” The IT Service Desk pilot highlights the success of these programs and the multiple ways in which the pilot supports lifelong learning while also advancing community partnerships and organizational strength at UC Davis.  

    Research shows that well-designed pathways that combine academic requirements and out-of-classroom experiences are key to student success. Embedding career and professional development opportunities throughout a student’s life, regardless of their academic career progression, is likely to yield positive outcomes, especially when supplementing curricular, co-curricular, employment, and other professional experience with career and professional advising.  

    UC Davis Tech Pathways students stand in a group outside at Aggie Square

    Pilot participants started with a rigorous 12-week training, which emphasized critical and analytical skills necessary for IT service analysts. They focused on independently researching, testing, documenting, and resolving technical incidents; learning how to translate complex technical concepts and terminology to a non-technical audience, and becoming familiar with popular desktop and mobile applications, from Google to Microsoft suite of productivity tools, among others.  

    As a result, participants started their 5-month position with IT Express with the knowledge and skills needed for a high-demand IT profession. Leveraging remote work flexibility, the program offered a unique opportunity to those selected for the pilot, who may not have otherwise had access to the same academic preparation or a similar professional experience. 

    “This is an amazing opportunity to provide education and job training to our community members to enter these technological career pathways,” said La Familia Counseling Center executive director, Rachel Rios. “We wanted to ensure that [...] local residents from the area are well represented in the new career pathways and the opportunities being developed through this project.” 

    Between Sacramento and UC Davis: New, Local Collaborations of Mutual Benefit  

    The IT Service Desk program exemplifies a partnership of mutual benefit – creating opportunities for Sacramento residents, strengthening the local economy, and advancing pathways to future technology jobs, including at UC Davis. 

    “When we formed the partnership, we aligned on the importance of participants emerging from the program able to get good-paying jobs that allow them to change their economic status and enrich their community,” said Alex Lowrie, director of strategic partnerships at CPE. “Every step of the way, we aim to develop participants' capabilities and prospects. Throughout the operation, we want to collaborate effectively and openly as a group of organizations working to make a difference in Sacramento.”

    The program not only invests in local area talent but provides Sacramento area residents with in-demand technical and professional skills based on current employer needs. It also builds a more robust local IT workforce and creates a possible pipeline of qualified IT candidates for UC Davis and other organizations in need of IT positions.

    IT Staffing & Labor Market: Social, Economic & Environmental Impacts

    “Traditionally, recruiting and retention for IT positions in higher education have faced unique challenges. By comparison, the technology sector remains dynamic in terms of career mobility and compensation,” says Lyndon Huling, interim lead for talent acquisition and manager of leadership recruitment, temporary staffing and diversity services at UC Davis and UC Davis Health. “With specialized, in-demand skills and more hybrid and/or remote options, technology professionals continue to have leverage in choosing their preferred position and work environment.” 

    A UC Davis Tech Pathways participant receives a certificate

    “This experience has helped me gain knowledge and perspective on what I want to continue to work towards [and]... was vital to how I see my personal growth within the UC Davis system,” one participant wrote in a survey about their experience in the program. 

    Through this collaboration, UC Davis, La Familia, and the Greater Sacramento Urban League can help shape the region’s future. At a strategic level, the program provides new, flexible educational and professional opportunities for lifelong learning. At an individual level, the program opens new horizons and possibilities for participants who may have never considered a career in IT in other circumstances. 

    This article was originally published on the UC Davis Information and Educational Technology website.

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