Inspiring Success

A blog from Creating IT Futures

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June 14, 2013

From the Depths of Despair

Last year, Joel Mielke of Crystal, Minnesota, a 42-year-old divorced father of four, found himself at the point of despair.

“I was at a point in my life when I felt I had nothing to offer society, nothing I could contribute of value. It was so demoralizing. I almost cannot explain the depths that I was at.”

From 2000 to 2007, Mielke had worked on the assembly line for Ford Motor Company at the company’s Twin Cities Assembly Plant until the plant downsized and offered buy-outs. (The plant would eventually close in December 2011.)

“It was the best place in the world to work,” recalls Mielke, who, more than anything, enjoyed his co-workers. “The best part of my job was getting to know people and taking in the diversity that’s out there.”

For the next four years Mielke lived off his severance package while returning to school for a medical assistant’s degree. He came close to finishing his business degree as well, but had to drop out when he couldn’t find a job and his money ran out.

“Even with degrees, it’s difficult to find employment in a downturned economy.”

Mielke was one of the unemployed or under-employed individuals who graduated from the IT-Ready Apprentice Program two weeks ago in Minneapolis / St. Paul. His diploma signifies successful completion of eight weeks of IT training, but Mielke went on to earn his CompTIA A+ certification as well. Certification is a requirement to qualify for a six-month paid full-time apprenticeship at an area company.

When he found out about IT-Ready’s call for applications on the Careerbuilder job board, Mielke was working a temp job at a water treatment plant; the job — which would have qualified for one of Mike Rowe’s “Dirty Jobs” episodes — had no chance of turning into a full-time permanent opportunity. “I was at a low point of my life,” said Mielke. “[IT-Ready] was just a wonderful opportunity that I had to jump at.”

The idea of a career in computers didn’t come out of the blue. Mielke has been a computer hobbyist for years. “My friends and family were like, ‘You have to do this.’ They were right.”

Among other things, the class covered computer networking. “Once we networked all the computers in the class, it was a lot of fun. We turned it into a prank, taking over each others’ computers.”

“We also learned how binary language works. Now I get what it is. It’s just a bunch of ons and offs.”

As he received his diploma on June 5 with others in the Minnesota class, Mielke was reflective as he addressed the IT-Ready staff and his fellow students.

“I was in a dead-end job and had really lost all hope. Thank you for giving that hope back to me.”

Participating companies where IT-Ready graduates are currently working include Covidien, HealthPartners, Pearson VUE, Pomeroy, and TEKsystems.

Mielke’s first apprenticeship interview is scheduled for this week.