At-risk youth offered MS Office training

A Canadian college will use a $104,000 donation from Microsoft Canada to add software certification to a training program for street youth.

Frontier College

Thursday said it had won the grant under Microsoft’s Unlimited Potential program, a US$1 billion effort to close computer literacy gaps within the next five years. Frontier, based in Toronto, will receive the money over a two-year period and is using it to pay an instructor to teach students to become Microsoft Office Specialists.

Through its Beat the Street program, Frontier College offers its courses for free to low-income young people, typically between the ages of 16 and 29. These students may need skills training to prevent themselves from winding up on the street, according to the program’s director, Robert Davis.

“”I like to the analogy of the three bears — not too hot, not too cold,”” he said. “”We’re looking for people who are not on the street now, but who still need our support.””

The Microsoft Office Specialist program, which is available in more than 100 countries and in 17 different languages, allows students to earn a certificate accrediting their skills with desktop applications like Word, Excel, Project, PowerPoint and Access. Microsoft claims more than 1 million Office Specialist certificates have been issued and that approximately 32,000 are issued each month.

Students will have to have basic computer skills to take the program, and Davis said Beat the Street would assess them through a quiz to determine their skill set and goals.

Davis said students may use the certification to prepare them for post-secondary education or to work in an office.

“”We have cases of people who know how to (use all those programs), but it’s difficult to prove to the employer,”” he said.

Mardell Williamson, branch manager at the Toronto location of Adecco Employment Services Ltd., wasn’t familiar with the certification but said Microsoft desktop skills are an asset for any job seeker.

“”Those are all programs that we test on, absolutely,”” she said. “”We would test them on Excel, depending on client specifications, we would see if they knew how to use PowerPoint.””

Davis said he hopes to achieve a 60 to 75 per cent completion rate among the students taking part in the program. There are currently about 50 young people involved in Beat the Street this year. The technology skills are only one of the program’s potential benefits, he added.

“”In taking part in the program like that, they’re also learning how to attend a program regularly and participate,”” he said. “”To show up, to call when they’re not coming in, is all good experience for the next thing they’re going to go on to do.””

According to Microsoft, whose executives could not be reached for comments at press time, Frontier College may receive an additional $52,000 in the third year if the program proves successful.

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