Jamie Watson, IT-Ready grad and Medica employeeSince graduating from high school, Jamie P. Watson, 43, worked one physically strenuous blue-collar job after the next – spending two to three years at each place of employment until circumstances or layoffs forced him to move on.
“I have three kids – I can’t not work,” he says. “I have to have a job.”
The hard labor took its toll and Watson underwent back surgery in 2010. Shortly after returning from medical leave, Watson found himself back on a machining line for 60 hours a week, thanks to mandatory overtime.
“At one point, I was working nights and I probably lifted 10,000 pounds of steel each night,” he said. “I thought, ‘There’s no way I can do this until I retire.’ Not unless I wanted to have back surgery again.”
A layoff soon afterward prompted Watson to start searching online career sites, where he stumbled across an ad for the IT-Ready Apprentice Program.
The ad promised free education and training in information technology (IT), followed by a paid apprenticeship for successful program graduates. Watson was skeptical but intrigued – after all, he thought, he had a knack for IT. He had comfortably worked with computers since being introduced to an Apple II in high school, and his extended family looked to him for tech support whenever they experienced IT problems at home.
“I thought, ‘It’s probably a scam,’ but I went through the process and found out it was legitimate,” he said. “It seemed like an interesting idea. I liked how the IT-Ready Program was giving people a way to build a career instead of what I had always had, which was a job where I’d work three or four years at one place, then go to another place.”
Watson said he thoroughly enjoyed the eight weeks of education and training he received with IT-Ready.
“The thing I really love about the program is that — while it doesn’t prepare you to get a job making $70,000 a year — it gives you exactly the knowledge you need to get your foot in the door in the IT industry. The rest is all on you. So you get out of it exactly what you put into it.”
For someone like Watson, who considers himself a self-starter and very motivated, that’s exactly the leg up he needed.
Asked to cite an aspect of the IT-Ready Apprentice Program that proved especially meaningful, and Watson identified the “elevator pitch” he had to develop – recounting his talents and career achievements in 60 seconds.
“I heard, ‘Nope – redo it, nope – redo it’ more times than I can count,” he said. “Which was really good because it pushed home the message that this is very, very important. It was difficult for me because I had been in blue-collar work and I wanted it to sound professional.”
After graduating from the IT-Ready Apprentice Program with CompTIA A+ certification, Watson now is working as an apprentice at Medica within its IT group dedicated to assisting employees with imaging, moving and application changes.
Serving about 1.5 million members, Medica is a health insurance company headquartered in Minneapolis and serving the Upper Midwest market. The non-profit company advertises a goal of becoming the region’s most popular health plan while maintaining organizational values of integrity, service, innovation, and efficiency.
When asked what he enjoys most about his work, Watson replies, “the variety.” Every day is different in terms of opportunities and challenges, he said, and he likes how his various IT abilities – installing a desktop system for a new hire, for example – make it possible for Medica employees to do their own work more quickly and easily.
“I absolutely love what I do. I get to work directly with people and fix their problems” Jamie Watson
“I absolutely love what I do,” he said. “I get to go out and about – work directly with people and fix their problems. One end user sent my supervisor an email about how I helped him get back to work and how appreciative he was for that. So that’s my job, making people happy. How could I not love doing that?!”
The IT field isn’t for everyone, Watson said. It is probably best suited for those who readily embrace change.
“I learn something new every day,” he said. “If you don’t like to learn and you don’t want to be a student for the rest of your life, you shouldn’t consider a career in IT. Because every day I learn something I didn’t know I could do.”