When Nguyen Huynh heard about a unique opportunity to learn alongside campus peers, he jumped at the chance. He was among the first participants in the SPARK program developed and supported by OneIT and Health Care Information Systems.
“My IT director encouraged participation,” says Huynh, then an IT support consultant at the Tippie College of Business. “I was handling most enterprise client management tasks for the college and saw working more closely with the ECM team in ITS Enterprise Services as a way to enhance my skills.”
Short for “sharing perspectives and realizing knowledge,” SPARK provides campus IT professionals with short-term opportunities to observe work by other teams or longer-term immersion experiences that can last months or even years.
In every case, the program aims to help participants develop new skills through experiential, on-the-job learning. It also helps break down barriers between units.
“People are looking for opportunities to collaborate and learn from each other,” says José Jiménez, director of Research Information Systems and a member of the SPARK project team. “They’re making connections across traditionally siloed units and sharing best practices in new ways.”
Building the workforce of the future
SPARK stems directly from the OneIT strategic plan, which calls for initiatives that build an “IT workforce of the future.” To date, at least 17 participants have completed observations (usually up to one day) and 13 have done immersions (so far ranging from three months to two years).
Host units develop and post both types of opportunities. Interested candidates are advised to talk with their supervisors and—especially in the case of immersions—define goals, set schedules, and ensure they’re fully prepared.
Huynh spent two mornings each week with the ECM team analyzing policy settings and scripts, troubleshooting problems, and managing support tickets. “It helped me in my work at Tippie, too,” he says. “I was learning skills and developing solutions that I could apply directly at the college.”
In fall 2019, Huynh joined ECM full time. SPARK isn’t designed to promote job changes—most participants stay with their original units. But the experience can open up new opportunities for individuals and teams alike.
Learning from successes
In addition to observations and immersions, units can sponsor SPARK open houses that showcase their work and give staff a chance to learn about potential career paths. The Information Security and Policy Office, Research Information Systems, and Research Services were among the units that hosted SPARK open houses in 2019.
Looking forward, SPARK project leads want to formalize processes around immersions, in particular, given the time and resource commitments involved. Participation goals are to have 100 percent of OneIT units and 80 percent of individual staff members involved in SPARK by June 30, 2021.
“Participants already are doing long-term rotations or assignments outside their normal roles, but we need to document best practices,” Jiménez says. “People are ready for it—we just need to catch up with the activity already going on.”