August 16, 2022

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Rob Stockman of Beamsville was laid off from his job in the retail travel industry...

Rob Stockman of Beamsville was laid off from his job in the retail travel industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. He subscribed to Fort Erie International Academy’s Tech 101 program to upgrade his skills, something he said has opened new doors for him.

Rob Stockman was at a crossroads.

Being employed in the travel industry for more than 30 years, he found himself without a job, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and the world shut down.

“I was furloughed and I have been unemployed for the past 20 months,” the Beamsville resident said.

But he happened to catch a news story on television about a program that had been developed by the Fort Erie International Academy called Tech 101, a series of online videos that help people become better acquainted with tech programs like Microsoft Word, Power Point, Zoom and more.

“I think I spilled my coffee,” Stockman said. “The light bulb came on.”

So, he signed up for the program, devouring as much information as he could. He thought it would give his employment chances a boost.

“It’s been life changing,” he said. “I’ve had four job interviews.”

While his goal has been to return to the travel industry, the newly acquired skills help him land a variety of temporary positions, including as a deputy returning officer in the federal election last September. He also will be working behind the scenes at this year’s Grey Cup game in Hamilton.

He credits it all to the skills he’s added through Tech 101.

“I still want to work in the travel industry,” he said. “But this has allowed me to open a door and hopefully learn other things.”

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Tech 101 was developed with the help of Chinese tech giant Huawei, which worked with FEIA’s Alex Liu and his team as consultants on the project.

He said, with more than 10,000 people taking the courses, it has been a certified success. With the pandemic meaning more people were at home and relied on online connections for work and family, there was an appetite for learning new — or upgrading — skills.

“The most popular program was Microsoft PowerPoint,” Liu said. “A close second was Microsoft Word.”

In fact, he said the entire Microsoft Office suite was one users found most useful, he added.

New courses are being considered and Lui said there have been some requests.

“We’re getting requests for modules on digital marketing and programming,” he said.

Each course is divided into modules that users can complete at their own pace. They are designed for beginners to help people become more tech-savvy and create the building blocks for a career in a modern online workforce.

In addition to the videos, there is a Facebook community for users. The idea is to connect with other subscribers and/or mentors for advice and support

For Sophie Su of St Catharines, Tech 101 was a godsend. With five school-aged children at home during the pandemic, the courses were a way for her children to continue learning new skills that may only be offered in school as an extracurricular activity.

“All of my kids really love it,” Su said. “My daughter, Kate, is in Grade 3 and she has started using PowerPoint at school. It gave all of my kids a good grounding.”

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But most of all, she said all five of her children wanted to watch.

“They really enjoyed it. They had fun,” Su said.

FEIA vice-principal and Tech 101’s director of education Rob Ford said to hear how people like Stockman and the Su family have enjoyed the program was gratifying.

“We have over 10,000 subscriptions online,” he said. “To hear these words makes me feel great. It’s testimony. It’s tried, tested and true.”

He added that as an educator, it’s especially meaningful.

“One, it shows we’re on the right track and two, it’s reaching not just one, but thousands of people.”

STORY BEHIND THE STORY: An online program developed by the Fort Erie International Academy that helps people become more proficient in computer programs has proven popular. Reporter Richard Hutton wanted to see how the program has impacted the lives of people who have taken part in the sessions.