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Closing the Skills Gap in Rural North Carolina, and Beyond: An Interview with Kelly Caudle at Stanly Community College

Fri, 11/17/2017 - 09:50

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Kelly Caudle, Program Head of the Cisco Networking Academy, VMware Academy, and IT Academy at Stanly Community College (SCC). In this interview, he discusses his experience using NETLAB+ to deliver IT courses to students and instructors across the Southeast.

Interviewer: Thank you, Kelly, for joining us today. We’re excited to learn how you’ve been able to take a small community college in rural North Carolina and build a world-class IT training center. Can you start by describing what you do at SCC?

Kelly: I’m the head of the Cisco Networking Academy, which includes an Academy Support Center and Instructor Training Center. I also run our Online IT Academy, which teaches Cisco, VMware, Palo Alto Networks, and we’re going to offer Red Hat here shortly. We use NDG’s NETLAB+ product to deliver online training to students around the world.

Interviewer: That’s great. Do you only use NETLAB+ for online training?

Kelly: No, we use it for seated too. We have a classroom with Cisco gear so students can put their hands on it, but the building is closed at night. We use NETLAB+ to make sure that the Cisco gear is accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so students can do labs outside of the classroom.

That’s one of the big benefits that NETLAB+ delivers to us. Utilization. When you invest three-quarters of a million dollars in a room full of servers, you don’t want it sitting idle just because the building is closed. With NETLAB+, our students are able to access that gear from anywhere, simply by using a web browser.

Interviewer: I bet that’s really helpful for the students.

Kelly: It is. They really like the system. The ability to have access anytime when it is convenient for them is very nice. Plus, in the classroom you can do things with NETLAB+ systems that you can’t do with real gear. You can have an entire class, for example, on one piece of gear. There will be one router, and the whole classroom will be watching someone configuring one router—without having to crowd around a computer. They’ll all be logged in as a team and can do labs. So the students really like it.
Once a student gets into one of our classes, and sees how we can provide them hands-on experience in an online environment, they really tend to stick around. They’ll take one class and they’ll say, “This is amazing. Do you have anything else like this?” And we do. We have courses in Cisco, VMware, Palo Alto Networks, Microsoft, and Linux—all built using the same system.

Interviewer: Fantastic. How do your instructors like the system?

Kelly: NETLAB+ offers what I like to call a force multiplier. Going into it, you know that the equipment will be available 24/7, but until it’s actually available, you don’t realize how convenient that is. I can be sitting at home and need to check a lab, or access a couple of Cisco routers and switches to test something, and all I need is a web browser and an internet connection, and I’m able to jump in there and do it immediately. Once you have that ability to access these high-level technologies from just your web browser, it really changes things.

It also helps our instructors teach more effectively. You can see when students have logged in. It’s really amazing because when they do a Cisco lab, you can literally see every single command they’ve typed into the device. So you know if they’re learning the material and completing the labs. The system gives you a lot of flexibility in tracking student performance.

Interviewer: You’re also an Instructor Training Center (ITC). Can you talk about the how you’re using NETLAB+ there?

Kelly: As an ITC, we use NETLAB+ to train instructors at other Cisco academies to be able to teach the Cisco curriculum. We would not be an ITC if it wasn’t for NETLAB+, because we would not be able to offer those courses online. Instructors today just don’t have the money to travel to training and spend a week sitting in a classroom. But if you can get in them in an class that’s just eight weeks long and online, then they can take the course.

Interviewer: And take that training back to their classrooms?

Kelly: Exactly. And then they take that training and give it to their students. So that students in, say, the mountains of North Carolina can get high-tech skills in Cisco, and then be able to go get jobs in the IT field. It’s really neat.

At last count, we had 62 academies in North Carolina that we support: high schools, community colleges, and universities. And we have 140 academies total in the Southeast, comprising Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee.

Interviewer: That’s amazing. Can you tell me about your students? What are their backgrounds and where do they go after Stanly Community College?

Kelly: It really runs the gamut. We get the student who is already working in IT and wants to either move into a new position or be promoted. Or, honestly, they’re doing PC helpdesk support, and they want to move to another company doing more advanced IT work. We see kids straight out of high school. We see returning workers. I’ve had people that have been working in mills their entire lives, and then they come back and retrain.

Interviewer: What proportion of your students is online?

Kelly: It’s probably a 50-50 split between online and seated students. We divide our program between continuing education (mostly online) and curriculum (in-class). For continuing education, we have roughly 350 VMware students every eight weeks from around the world. Brazil, Australia, the UK—pretty much everywhere.

On the curriculum side, we’re not a big school. In fact, we’re a very rural school in North Carolina, so we’re not pulling huge numbers into our curriculum courses. But we’re able to offer those curriculum students much higher technology than we would be able to otherwise, because we’re also offering continuing education and using that to give our curriculum students access to the same advanced technology.

Interviewer: I’m constantly reading about the skills gap that we face as a nation. Can you talk about how Stanly Community College is addressing that?

Kelly: The job of a community college in North Carolina is to provide people with the training they need to get good jobs. And if you look at and you search for Cisco or VMware or Linux or Microsoft, you will find job after job after job. And so we are preparing students with skills that directly relate to jobs that are out there right now.

We’re constantly looking at what skills are needed. That’s one of the reasons we made a big push with Palo Alto Networks for security and with VMware for virtualization, because those are the big players right now in those two areas. So we are definitely mapping what we teach to the skills gap.

Interviewer: Have your graduates been successful in obtaining new careers?

Kelly: Definitely. In the past two to three years, we’ve placed 46 students in jobs here locally. And that’s not counting all of the students online, all over the world. We’ve got several at Cisco, several at the city of Charlotte, we’ve got them all over place. I have one gentleman who was running a Go-Kart repair and Go-Kart supply store, saw the writing on the wall that it wasn’t going to make it, and got retrained. He now works for the city of Charlotte as a network engineer. And he works with a kid who came here straight out of high school. Now the two of them are working there together. We’ve had a lot of great success stories like that.

Interviewer: That must be tremendously rewarding. What’s next for your program there? Are you working on anything else to help prepare your students for tomorrow?

Kelly: One of the great things about NETLAB+ is the breadth of technologies it supports. Everything from cybersecurity to virtualization. You can teach just about any class you want on it, because you can build your own custom content.

This year we’re going to rollout the Red Hat Linux Academy using NETLAB+. We’re also going to take the Microsoft courses that we offer on the curriculum side and deliver them online to our continuing education students. Those are our two big projects.

Beyond that, we’re working on a project to provide access to smaller schools. We’ve always wanted to do what we call “NETLAB+ on Steroids,” where we build a NETLAB+ super center that can serve schools that could never afford to build their own Cisco labs. This is already being done in California by the Western Academy Support & Training Center. And we’d like to the same thing here, so that other schools can give their students the IT skills they need to obtain rewarding careers and make an impact on their communities.

Red Hat OpenStack Labs Now Available for NETLAB+

Mon, 10/23/2017 - 08:50

NDG is pleased to announce the following addition to our supported curriculum content options for NETLAB+.

RED HAT OPENSTACK ADMINISTRATION I (CL110) – These labs are designed for system administrators who are intending to implement a cloud computing environment using the Red Hat OpenStack Platform v10.1.

–  Please note that participation in the Red Hat® Academy program is required.
–  For more information, please visit:

How NETLAB+ Is Empowering the BACCC to Close the IT Skills Gap

Mon, 08/21/2017 - 12:46

As the IT skills gap widens, major employers have begun looking beyond four-year universities for trained IT professionals. IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Cisco—some of the world’s biggest technology brands have recently made headlines for recruitment programs aimed at attracting talent from community colleges.

And it’s no surprise, because there’s no better place to find candidates with hands-on skills and training in the latest technologies. Yet, community colleges face numerous challenges in delivering this training, from funding equipment to maintaining and upgrading it with limited resources.

We recently interviewed Richard Grotegut, ICT Deputy Sector Navigator at the Bay Area Community College Consortium (BACCC), to find out how the community colleges in the San Francisco Bay Area are using NETLAB+ to overcome these challenges and prepare students for careers in the IT industry.



“It was a no-brainer to use NETLAB+,” Grotegut explains. “As an instructor, preparing a lab activity, creating it, delivering it, and maintaining it is a lot of work. NETLAB+ gives us hundreds of labs that have already been produced and are available for instructors to use. So having something readily available that teaches the desired outcomes is like a teacher’s best friend. That’s one of the great advantages of NETLAB+.”

NETLAB+ comes with over 600 proven IT labs developed in partnership with leading vendors and aligned to industry certifications. This makes it easy for programs to offer and deploy a wide range of curriculum covering today’s most in-demand technologies.

With NETLAB+, users are able to access IT labs 24/7, from anywhere with an internet connection. Program administrators appreciate this capability because it dramatically increases the utilization and ROI of their IT infrastructure. And students love it because it makes it easier to fit labs into their busy schedules.

A Regional Solution to the IT Training Challenge
In 2015, six of the 24 BACCC community colleges joined forces to apply for a State of California grant to transfer all of their IT lab equipment to a centralized data center at Cabrillo College.

“Before then, each of the Bay Area community colleges had to support their own IT program and labs,” Grotegut recalls. “And we all struggled to fund, build and manage lab facilities that could provide the kind of hands-on training our students needed. We got an opportunity in 2015 to apply for a grant that would allow us to consolidate our lab equipment into a single, centralized data center—and then use NETLAB+ to deliver our labs in the cloud.”

“I worked with Gerlinde Brady, who is now the CTE Dean at Cabrillo College, to put a proposal together. We asked for almost a million dollars to purchase additional equipment and relocate existing equipment from six different schools to Cabrillo College. And we had another eight schools that didn’t have NETLAB+ but wanted to use it. So there was a lot of regional support, and the proposal got approved.”


Big Savings, Bigger Benefits
“The savings to the region have been pretty significant,” Grotegut notes. He estimates that collectively it would have cost the Bay Area community colleges $3.6M to build similar IT lab facilities, and much more to manage them.

With the consolidated facility, BACCC was able to hire a full-time data center administrator, which enables instructors to focus on teaching rather than maintaining and upgrading infrastructure. And with NETLAB+, there’s so much more content available for them to teach.

Bay Area community colleges aren’t the only ones benefiting from the new IT lab facilities. BACCC has occasionally provided access to colleges in other parts of California and local high schools. BACCC also supports the local Cyber Patriot program, which enables high school students to develop and test their cybersecurity skills.

“Just teaching cybersecurity requires a topology that would be difficult to set up locally,” explains Grotegut. “Students who go through these labs have access to seven or eight computers that are networked together, and then can apply their knowledge and skills working on that topology. They wouldn’t be able to do that working in a physical lab.”


Closing the Skills Gap
“The problem with industry is that 70% of the jobs—at least when you look at the job boards—require a bachelor’s degree. Even though it’s really the skills they’re interested in,” he observes.

“What we’re trying to do is to get employers to recognize community colleges as a resource for the skilled technicians and employees they need. Because often they don’t look here. They look at university programs. But if you talk to community college instructors, you’ll hear a common story: We get so many students who have graduated from university and have their bachelor’s degree in MIS or Computer Science, yet they can’t find jobs because they don’t have any hands-on skills working with technologies that are important today, like Oracle and Microsoft and VMWare. It’s at the community college where they get a chance to learn these skills. And only here, really.”


A Bright Future for BACCC Students
Capable of accommodating 320 simultaneous connections and up to 17,920 individual 3-hour lab sessions during a 24/7 week, the BACCC’s NETLAB+ system has ample capacity to support more students, colleges and curriculum.

In addition to expanding its IT offerings, the BACCC is looking at new use cases that would benefit other programs. Grotegut explains:

“With NETLAB+, there are ways to support any program that requires the use of a software application. For example, in business courses, a lot of schools teach QuickBooks. They have to pay to license the software and have it installed in the classroom. The problem is that the software is only accessible to students when the classroom is open. With NETLAB, we can put QuickBooks licenses on a virtual machine that’s accessible 24/7, so students can practice any time. They can access it locally in class or remotely. We see a lot of opportunities to do things for other programs, while continuing to expand and offer the new technologies required for people in IT.”

Read the case study to learn more about the cost savings BACCC achieved using NDG’s NETLAB+ system.