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Reflecting on Progress: Updates from Momentum's IT Support Specialist Program

Momentum's new IT Support Specialist program piloted an innovative Income Share Agreement tuition model that ensures people come out of the program ahead of where they started.

  • Article
  • Momentum news
  • Employment skills

Wed Jan 10, 2024 by Momentum Staff

There is a problem today in the vocational training landscape. Simply stated, two pathways exist for adults looking for a fast track to employment in careers in Tech.

One is to take out a sizeable student loan and study at a private college. Sometimes you land a job, and sometimes you don’t. If you don’t, you’re actually further behind because now you still have no job, but a newly acquired debt to the tune of $10,000 - $20,000.

The other path is to apply for a training program at a government funded institution. On this path, you often need to demonstrate you are unemployed, and competition is high for limited seats. The seats made available fluctuate depending on government budgets and priorities.

Whether it’s a risk of going into debt, or not being accepted into a program with limited seats, both options contain elements that aren’t ideal for a prospective learner.

Is there a third way? At Momentum, we think there might be. This is what prompted our exploration into an Income Share Agreement model.

An Income Share Agreement (ISA) is made between the student and the institution with the following understanding: the student only pays up front what they are able to pay for tuition, and the remainder becomes owing only if the student finds full-time employment. Upon finding full-time employment, the student pays a % of their income towards the tuition they “owe” to the training institution. If they don’t find a job, then they aren’t required to pay back tuition.

This is the model of our IT Support Specialist program, launched in the spring of 2023, that provides a 5-month accelerated program where participants acquire 4 tech certifications, learn the soft skills employers are looking for, and participate in a 2-month work practicum at a local employer. Read CTV's story about the program.

How is this exploration going so far? Here are a few highlights:

  • In June 2023 our first cohort in the IT Support Specialist program began their training. This was our first program to experiment with the ISA revenue model. The intended outcome for the learners was to find an entry-level career in IT support.
  • 12 participants graduated from the program in October. A month after graduation, 7 participants had landed full-time employment.
  • Repayment of the ISAs begins in January, and we are keen to monitor how the learners pay back tuition upon finding employment. Momentum has intentionally set favorable repayment terms with no interest rates throughout this pilot period.
  • The program has attracted a WIDE range of curious learners. For one learner, this was their very first training program after high school. Another immigrated from Cameroon where he was a physician and chose to pivot to tech upon landing in Canada; the IT Support Specialist program was a way for him to get his foot in the door. Another learner was stuck in low paying retail jobs after moving to Canada and was looking for a career that would be more rewarding and higher paying.
  • All 12 of the graduating participants were placed for a 2-month work experience with an employer host.
  • One of the learners in the program, who found employment at ATB Financial, shared with us: “I now feel well-equipped with the tools and knowledge needed to be gainfully employed in Information Technology arena, with the mindset of continuous growth.”

So far, the exploration is resulting in people landing jobs in tech, and Momentum is learning more about how best to design the ISA revenue model. This “third way” is showing promise, and more testing is required to know if this type of tuition model can grow to help remove some of the financial risk of participating in a private college program in Alberta.

With our new income-first strategy in place, we view the IT Support Specialist program as a way to empower unemployed or underemployed Calgarians to access career-track jobs in tech, through an innovative revenue model that ensures people come out of the program ahead of where they started.

The next cohort for this program launches in February. Do you know someone who you think might be interested in finding an entry level position in IT? Send them to the ITSS program page for more info!

Thanks to these incredible employer partners, who provide our participants with high quality skill-building experience:

We are also grateful for funders like the Ministry of Seniors, Community Social Services (Government of Alberta) and the Kanovsky Family Foundation, who were willing to invest in this innovative pilot.