Through work force training in IT, a teacher, a construction worker, a retired postal worker and a soldier who was doing network and computer support in Afghanistan are among those with the makings of a new career.
The Creating IT Futures Foundation, an offshoot of the IT industry association CompTIA, is reporting early success with its IT-Ready Apprentice Program.
The idea is to train people in eight weeks — whether unemployed or part of a population underrepresented in IT, such as women or minorities — for entry-level IT work, then place them in a six-month apprenticeship to gain work experience. Employers are asked to line up a mentor for the apprentice who is not his or her supervisor and to pay $15 an hour.
Training began in two metro areas — Cincinnati and Minneapolis/St. Paul — and the program has since grown to include Columbus, Ohio. From the 18 students in the first class who completed the training in the two cities, 92 percent passed CompTIA’s A+ certification exam and were placed in apprenticeships. Two people who couldn’t comply with the program’s strict rules were removed from the program.
Charles Eaton, executive director of the Creating IT Futures Foundation, explained about the differences in the two cities:
In the Twin Cities program, all were in six-month apprenticeships. In Cincinnati, some employers wanted a shorter apprenticeship and then to hire them full time. Especially among service providers, some employers wanted to hire them full-time after a very short period. We’ve got [some] people supervising after less than five months on the job. Some of the people have gotten multiple certifications. …Our goal was to get people gainfully employed and give them the best chance. In some cases, the apprenticeship was the best chance and in other cases, it wasn’t necessary.
While it wasn’t difficult to line up employers at $15 an hour in the Twin Cities for the apprentices, the market was softer in Cincinnati, he said, and the wage was closer to $12. Applicants there, though, were willing to accept that wage to have the opportunity to gain new skills. Once they were hired full time, those wages are believed to be higher, though program officials say that was between the apprentice and employer.
The applicants were a diverse lot. The soldier, for instance, had been doing the work, but lacked a credential telling employers what he knew. Some were long-term unemployed —18 months to 2 years. Others were employed, but living right at the poverty line. One woman had been taking care of her mother and had been out of the work force for a while; others had been in repair. Overall, the average age was 38, with a range from about 22 to 62. Said Eaton:
They all fit the criteria of needing an opportunity. All of them thought IT would be a way to gain a stable career. I can advance, I can stack on credentials. Most importantly was that it would be family-sustaining wages and there would be growth in those wages.
The two original cities have each had two classes now and Columbus its first. The organization invested with a similar training program called Per Scholas that was setting up shop in Columbus. It was working with a grant from JPMorgan Chase to train the workers it needed there. It turns out, the robust tech scene there was the same that sold IBM on choosing Columbus for its data analytics center. Per Scholas runs a 15-week training program, and Eaton said it will be interesting to see how they work side by side.
Eaton said of the program so far:
I think we’ve proved that yes, you can find these diamonds in the rough, people in need of an opportunity, people who don’t have the time or the money for other opportunities like spending six months in a college class. Through our screening, we’ve been able to find really motivated people. …We’ve found people really desperate for someone to give them a chance and they’re going to make the most of it. These are really great employees because of that. We weren’t sure we’d be able to find the people and also [we wondered] would we be able to train them well enough in the technical skills that they would be valuable on the job, compared with someone who may have come from a technical school or who had gotten a degree?
In addition to studying for the A+ certification, the training included lessons in “soft” skills, including communication, working with customers, working in a collaborative team. Perhaps because the applicants already had experience in the work force, the program enhanced its training in this area to a higher level, focusing on conflict management — trying to analyze what motivates an angry customer or co-worker and how to make adjustments in themselves to diffuse the situation.
Eaton said the program could not be done as an online course:
Having everyone face to face for eight weeks allowed us to advocate on their behalf with confidence, so when we’d go to these employers, so we could say, ‘Here is someone who’s really good, and we’re trying to match them with the kind of job you have available.’ That worked very, very well. This is why you could not do a program like this online, because you need to see that individual every day for eight weeks. …That is our value to the candidate. Even if they got the certification online, they wouldn’t be able to get their foot in the door without our recruiters trying to make those connections.”
The organization is working with Per Scholas on plans to expand the training programs to other cities. Those cities will be sites that offer the tech jobs needed to place the apprentices and also with sustainable sources of funding, Eaton said. It hopes to determine by the middle of next year the city where it will set up shop in 2014.