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Cook Systems Puts IT Training on the Front Burner

Wayne CookTwo years ago, Wayne Cook (pictured), chief executive officer of Cook Systems International, was looking at the availability of technology talent and realized something needed to change – and fast. Not only was the supply of affordable talent failing to meet the demand for it, but employers were struggling to hold on to the talent they had – particularly in the area of Java development.  For an IT staffing solutions company like Cook Systems, “That’s a troublesome business model,” says Cook, who takes pride in his company’s superior ability to find and match clients with the best technology candidates.

The reason for the talent shortage, Cook realized, wasn’t due to a lack of available training programs, but more to a lack of quality in those training programs. As he saw it, the existing programs were insufficient and failed to produce successful graduates. Realizing that the problem wasn’t going to go away on its own, Cook decided to take matters into his own hands.

“We considered every significant aspect of what it takes to be successful as a Java developer,” Cook says. “Then we attempted to identify the root causes of failure that result in so many unsuccessful Java training programs across this country.”

That was the beginning of what is now FastTrack’D: The U.S. Source for Java Developers, a comprehensive program designed to fully prepare graduates with the programming skills and practices in demand by the Java Software Development industry.

With FastTrack’D, Cook doesn’t want to simply produce Java graduates, but consistently turn out candidates who would evolve into the leading 20 percent of all Java developers.  “There’s that old adage, ‘20 percent do 80 percent of the work,’ so what we always look for [in candidates for this program] is that 20 percent,” Cook says.

Unlike other training programs, FastTrack’D is completely free for students, but the training regimen is extremely intense, which is why only the most highly qualified candidates are selected for the intense, seven-week program. Only  a fraction of the candidates who apply for the program get in; however, those who do not are encouraged to keep trying and kept on file to be considered for future opportunities.

“We touch every single one of the people who apply,” says Cook Systems Recruiting Manager Elayna Scott. “We have a pipeline of people we keep in constant contact with. We have some amazing people working on this program who know it’s important to keep that touch with the candidates. We don’t want to lose that talent.”

Another thing that differentiates Cook Systems’ program is that everyone who completes the program is placed. Cook Systems’ recruiters make a point of matching the right candidates with the right projects and the right companies. “We’re building and recreating our workforce, we put them on a career path where they are taken care of well, and they are cross-trained over the life of their career at Cook on other technologies,” Cook says of his graduates.

FastTrack’D conducted its first class in August 2012, and today has classes taking place in three cities. “Our goal is to create several hundred developers this year, six hundred next year, and a thousand a year the year after.”

It’s an ambitious goal for sure, but given the program’s success thus far, Cook has faith they can reach it. “Our developers are awesome.  We have deployed everyone we have graduated so far.  One hundred percent of our customers say that on day one [of starting their new jobs], you can’t tell the difference between them and a five-plus year senior developer.”

Asked where he ultimately wants to take FastTrack’D, Cook says he wants to create a model other businesses can adapt and use for their own needs. He says he hopes it serves as a model that gives American workers the chance to learn new skills and establish high paying careers while addressing the talent shortage many American businesses are facing.  “The model is an amazing one. Now were scaling it up, and, as we do so, we hope it’s a central solution to the growing need for Java in the country.”

Mary Lorenz

About Mary Lorenz

Mary is a copywriter for CareerBuilder, specializing in B2B marketing and corporate recruiting best practices and social media. In addition to creating copy for corporate advertising and marketing campaigns, she researches and writes about employee attraction, engagement and retention. Whenever possible, she makes references to pop culture. Sometimes, those references are even relevant. A New Orleans native, Mary now lives in Chicago, right down the street from the best sushi place in the city. It's awesome.
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