Wine Country Live Morning with Barry Martin

Peg Maddocks Discusses NapaLearns Virtual Career Academy on KVON

Peg Maddocks, PhD, Executive Director, NapaLearns
Published on June 3, 2020

On June 3, 2020, Peg Maddocks, executive director of NapaLearns, sat down with Barry Martin on the K-VON Wine Country Live morning show to discuss the NapaLearns Virtual Career Academy. You can listen to the talk or read the transcript of that talk below.

Barry:  All right now. As promised, we’re set at this moment in the show to talk to a guest about a new program from NapaLearns, and no better than Peg Maddocks, who is the executive director of NapaLearns to tell us about it. Peg, welcome to the show.
Peg:  Thanks for having me on, Barry.

Introducing NapaLearns Virtual Career Academy

Barry:  Of course. This is something really important for kids and parents to know about right now, going into the summer. What’s up with this new program?
: Well, it’s called the NapaLearns Virtual Career Academy, so that tells you a little something. It’s an online school basically that we’ve established since the lockdown on March 20th. Our board revised our strategic plan and wants us to focus on career readiness for students, and what better way to help them than to offer courses they’re probably not going to see at their schools? We’re offering this to anyone in high school or above. We’re looking at young adults who may be possibly changing their minds about going right off to college or who are in a career that they’d like to change and upgrade.

So the audience is broad, Napa County. If you live or work in Napa County, you can attend this program for free.

Barry:     Wow. For free. That’s a pretty good price. It’s got a focus on digital skills, yes?
Peg:      Right. We focused on the areas that have the most demand right now and are well paying, and that is the tech arena. Right now in this country, there are five million jobs that are open, that can’t be filled because there’s no one that’s been trained to do the jobs, and those are all in IT.

Barry:     How many jobs are open?
Peg:      Five million.

Barry:     Wow. And with unemployment at the level that it’s at and with some sectors probably coming back slowly over time, people may be wanting to examine options. They might want to rethink what they were expecting to do with their adult careers.
Peg:      Exactly. These courses are focused on tools that could be used in any market segment. So if you want to be desktop support and eventually a network engineer, every single type of business needs network engineers. You could get a job in almost any industry. For example, one of our courses is digital marketing. We’re reaching out to all of the wineries and the hotels to tell them that if they have employees that maybe they’ve laid off or may be a bit younger and want to retool, they can come and take our courses.

Age range of participants

Barry:     What’s the exact age range for this program?
Peg:      We’re looking at high school and above. The challenge is, these are online courses that were developed by companies like Google and Cisco and Autodesk and Adobe. They’re challenging. So these are courses that students would do after school, after work on their own time, like most people do online courses. It’s an extra load, especially for high school kids, but we know some students have extra time in the day. This could be something they do in that period they have off.

The difference between our courses and a lot of these online courses that we’ve heard about is that we actually have instructors who will not teach the content because it’s already been developed, but will be there every step of the way with the students to support them with answering questions or coaching them, managing projects. There’ll be real world projects. All of these instructors are subject-matter experts in the area that they’re teaching and also have experience teaching.

Barry:     I’m almost ready to protest that this has an age limit on it. What about old guys?
Peg:      No, it doesn’t have an age limit on it. In fact, we have a fifty-one year old who is going to attend.
Process and milestones

Barry:     Okay, very good. When does it actually begin? It’s during the summer ahead here, right?
Peg:      Right now we’re doing information sessions to tell people what this is all about and what it entails. If you look at NapaLearns/VCA—for Virtual Career Academy—and you’ll find the information session registration.

Once we’re done with the information sessions, we’re going to run four webinars in the summer, June 24th, once a week through July 15th in each of our areas of study. So one area of study is called IT, which is kind of a behind-the-scenes networking component. The next main area is Programming and we’ll be teaching a Python course in that one. The next is Business and Marketing. Our digital marketing course will be taught by Claudette Shatto who’s at Napa Valley College but was VP of Marketing at V. Sattui for years, a real expert in the area. And then the last main area is Digital Design. So there, we have an Autodesk course, and we have an Adobe course.

You go to these seminars that will be ninety minutes long to decide which course you want to take. Most of the time in the ninety minutes will be spent on listening to experts in the careers that these jobs will prepare you for. So it’s like a career awareness seminar and a little introduction to the course and the instructor. After the seminars are over, then the courses actually begin August 31st, which are a variety of lengths. They’re going to go from January through April, depending on the course.

Barry:     How many class hours are we talking about?
Peg:      Every one of them is different. The first course we’re offering is the Google IT Support Certification. By the way, all of these relate to certifications that the industry recognizes. That one leads to an A+ certification, which is the #1 certification for everybody in IT, any kind of technical job needs to have it, and that one’s the longest. That goes 130 hours over ten months, with the instructor adding guest speakers and possibly other information, it may be a little bit longer. So that’s the most challenging one.

The shortest one is three months, and that’s the Digital Marketing course that Claudette’s teaching. That will be about two hours a week over three months. You can see that that’s the shortest one. Then there’s a couple of others like Cybersecurity we’re doing with Cisco. That one is about four or five months, two or three hours a week. So it varies.

Barry:     Can a student take more than one of these?
Peg:      They can. We have one high school student from Merritt Canyon who’s already signed up for two. He said, “I have a heavy load, but I know I can do this.” So, all power to him. We’ll see. We’re trying to fill the classes up to twenty people each. If there’s more than twenty, we’ll ask for them to just take the one course.

Program funding

Barry:     It’s a pretty amazing offer to be able to do this for free. If you’ve ever scanned through the Help Wanteds, you’ll see employers looking for these specific certifications often. It’s quite a leg up. How is this funded?
Peg:      We have wonderful donors, very large donors from Trinchero Family Estate who gave us a really wonderful one-million-dollar grant two years ago to last us four years. With the shift from classroom to distance-based learning, we haven’t had as many requests from the school districts, as you can imagine, which is where our money mostly goes, for professional development, for teachers and other things.

So we have the money, and we’ve wanted to try this out. It’s probably only going to cost about $100,000 because we have gotten great deals from our partners from Cisco, Coursera, and Autodesk. We don’t have to pay for most of these courses, although if you were in the general public, you would.

About NapaLearns

Barry:     What a terrific opportunity and definitely serves the mission of your organization. There are probably people listening who’ve heard of NapaLearns but don’t know what you’re focus on. Why don’t you tell everybody?
Peg:      It’s pretty much stayed steady all ten years. This is our tenth year. Our mission is to accelerate innovation in teaching and learning. It’s pretty simple. So our model is to invest in activities in the schools that they are just starting up that are new and may be transformative in terms of the way teachers teach, and we invest in those programs, teacher training, and sometimes equipment. We bought the first 3,500 Chromebooks for the districts way back when, and we invest in the teachers, and then they transform their teaching.

Everything is kind of on hold right now. The school districts are doing a magnificent job, just trying to figure out how to adapt to this environment and how to go back to school. So we have programs we’ve been paying for, and we’re done with a couple of them. The school districts will take them over, which is our motto. Once we’ve done the three-year investment, they’ll take over the programs, and that’s been very successful.

We have reserve, and we’ll put a little money towards this program to see if it sticks, and it is not just a one-year deal. It will go on.

For more information

Barry:     And it looks to me, from the information I have here, you have another information session—is this coming up tomorrow?
Peg:      Thursday at 4:00.

Barry:     How does somebody get signed up for that?
Peg:      Just go to our website, NapaLearns/VCA, and there’s a registration button there. You register for it. We have about fifteen people for tomorrow night already. We had about fourteen yesterday. So we’re real excited about it. There is a lot of interest in it. We see a lot of people applying. You can apply already. You’ll see the application form on our website as well. We’ve got some twenty, twenty-two, twenty-five, thirty-five year olds who are interested. Most of the people on the list are high school students. We’re excited to have anybody try this out.

Barry:     For sure. And it looks like more information sessions next week, too?
Peg:      We’ll hold two more. We’re reaching out to all the different businesses. Eventually I hope our program will have sponsors, local sponsors that want to invest in the jobs of the future. We’re working with the Work Force Alliance in the North Bay as well on their CareerPoint and also Career Ed to try to recruit people that are looking for something like this but could never afford it.

Barry:     Again, a terrific opportunity, no cost for people who want to earn a tech certification online, to find out more about the information sessions we just mentioned. Anything we’ve left out, Peg?
Peg:      No, but if they want to ask me any other questions, they can write to me at

Barry:     Outstanding. Peg Maddocks, executive director of NapaLearns. Thanks for being on today. This is a great program.