Since its inception in 2016, UNC Charlotte’s School of Professional Studies has offered digital skills and technology boot camps to upskill and retrain adult learners. The most recent program to be added in 2020 was the FinTech Certificate Program.
In 2016, UNC Charlotte’s School of Professional Studies began offering digital skills and technology boot camps that last between 12 and 24 weeks to upskill and retrain adult learners to help them pivot their careers. Four programs have been developed and hosted by the School of Professional Studies. Programs include Coding: Full Stack Web Development Certificate, Cybersecurity Certificate, Data Analytics and Visualization Certificate, and Fintech Certificate. Since 2016, these four programs have produced 1,500 graduates.
“As UNC Charlotte is the education engine for the region, we also want to be sure that we are serving the community in terms of career development, upskilling and reskilling,” said Asher Haines, associate provost of the vocational school.
The School of Professional Studies mission statement states: “The School of Professional Studies at UNC Charlotte ensures that all learners, regardless of age, experience level, or prior education, have the opportunity to learn, grow, and achieve their personal and professional goals with a UNC Charlotte education.”
These programs and the majority of programs in the School of Professional Studies are generally used by mature students who already have a four-year degree and are looking to upgrade and retrain. Upskilling and reskilling refers to adding new skills to a resume in addition to other previous skills or adding a set of skills in another area.
The School of Professional Studies is marketed to non-traditional learners as defined in their vision statement.
30% of students enrolled in these programs do not have a bachelor’s degree; however, a bachelor’s degree is not required, nor is a background in computer science or analytics.
“The world is seeing that people change jobs every four and a half to five years, so it’s good to have a resource at the University for people to say ‘okay, let me do a bit upskilling and reskilling and see if I can pivot my career,” Haines said.
According to Haines, most attendees do not come from a computer background.
“Perhaps they have worked in the financial industry and need to learn coding or technology application skills to help them in their current job or to move into a more IT-focused role,” said added Haines.
The first program to be developed was the Coding: Full Stack Web Development Certificate program in 2016. This program teaches students how to build dynamic web applications and how to become a web developer by learning the basics of coding and algorithms.
In 2019, the Cybersecurity Certificate Program began, where students learned computer, networking, and information security skills. Tools such as Wireshark, Kali Linux, Metasploit and Nessus will be taught with the opportunity to earn certifications in CompTIA Security+, CompTIA Network+ and ISC CISSP.
The newest program, the Fintech Certificate Program, teaches students professional financial skills such as programming, data analysis, and even cryptocurrency and blockchain.
The programs are also closely linked to employers. For example, students will participate in “demonstration days” where students can present their portfolios to employers who will provide feedback and employment opportunities.
Students who complete the courses receive certificates and can attend several career fairs offered by the School of Professional Studies.
“We’re hearing great feedback from students and employers,” Haines said.
On the School of Professional Studies website, there are several testimonials from graduates, including 2019 graduate Kari Gehrke.
Gehrke was enrolled part-time in the Full Stack Flex course, where they found that “this course allowed me to have opportunities and potential again in my career with a higher salary”.
These programs are part of the larger “portfolio” of other non-academic or professional development programs offered by the School of Professional Studies to serve various types of students and learners.
The School of Professional Studies offers professional development courses, career advancement certificates, diploma and graduate certificate programs, as well as corporate/custom training and executive education programs in more training camps.
“We’re always looking at where we need to expand our portfolio,” Haines said of future additions to the program.
These programs are available to students currently enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs at the university, and an alumni scholarship is available.
“It is central and essential to our mission to be able to respond to the Charlotte area. This includes the economic needs and economic drivers of the region,” Haines added.
Classes are currently virtual, but they were mostly in-person before the pandemic.
UNC Chapel Hill, Columbia Engineering, Rice University and Vanderbilt University have also used similar programs in partnership with Trilogy, the same partner company used by UNC Charlotte.
Trilogy is an Austin, Texas-based software company that helped launch boot camps such as the FinTech Boot Camp in 2019.