A Creating IT Futures job description advertised for a regional manager for its Chicago operations who was familiar with the area’s ecosystem of information technology training and employment.
When considering Anderson Lee as a job candidate, the term “familiar” would have been an understatement.
Lee spent two years researching that topic as part of the Chicago IT Talent Initiative, a collaborative effort involving education, government, philanthropic and corporate partners to address ongoing talent shortages in Chicagoland’s technology workforce. The effort also sought to provide educational and economic opportunities to people under-represented in the field, such as people of color, women and veterans.
(The Chicago IT Talent Initiative was funded by the Chicagoland Workforce Funder Alliance, CompTIA and Creating IT Futures. CompTIA is the leading technology industry association; Creating IT Futures is its tech workforce charity.)
The comprehensive report Lee compiled concluded that the tech employment landscape in Chicago is robust – but poorly connected. Boot camps, certification programs and apprenticeships are training much-needed new IT workers, but most are unaware of each other’s efforts. Unfortunately, so, too, are employers.
Moreover, the report concluded that diversity and equity gaps known to exist in technology now likely would widen without a system-wide commitment from all participants to change.
Naturally, executives at Creating IT Futures considered this to be pertinent information — and extended Lee a job offer in 2018.
“I consider the exhaustive research we did for the Chicago IT Talent Initiative to serve as a two-year head start on my work here. It put me in a position to be even more productive on behalf of our students,” Lee said. “I understand where our work fits into the area’s ecosystem and how we can be most successful.”
Not your boring desk job
As regional career services manager in Chicago, Lee helps connect graduates of the IT-Ready Technical Support program with employers. The intensive, eight-week, instructor-led technology skills and training program prepares students for entry-level positions in the IT field.
Students learn how to build a computer from parts, install hardware and software, troubleshoot problems, and set up and manage networks. They also learn career-critical soft professional skills, such as communication, customer service and teamwork.
At the end of the program, students take the vendor-neutral CompTIA A+ certification exams, demonstrating that they have the knowledge and skills necessary to secure full-time employment in the tech industry.
Lee meets with employers to share information about how the program works and to impart the value graduates bring to their workplaces. He also helps students craft eye-catching resumes and practice interview skills — an expertise for Lee, who is a Certified Professional Resume Writer.
“Wearing those different hats sits well with me,” he said. “There are days when I enjoy working with resumes, proofreading and editing, and other days when I like to get out and share information with the south and west sides of Chicago.”
Sometimes, Lee finds himself providing good, old-fashioned counseling and emotional support to participants anxious about life transitions.
“I once thought that students who managed to get past our screening process had everything figured out, but they don’t always — and that’s OK,” Lee said. “While providing a listening ear can be a time-consuming endeavor, I have found the rapport that develops from doing that actually makes my job a lot easier. By the time we are in the job connections stage, I have a good sense of what positions a student is well suited for.”
In a show of solidarity with the students, Lee even earned his own CompTIA A+ certification last July.
“Working with sometimes-anxious students inspired me to take the CompTIA A+ exams; it really helped me understand what they go through,” he said.
Lee has years of professional experience working in career development and counseling, with expertise in helping students for whom traditional educational pathways have presented barriers or been challenging. A first-generation child of immigrants — and the second person in his family to attend college — Lee earned his bachelor’s degree from Northwestern and his master’s degree from Columbia.
Getting the word out
A challenge Lee has encountered — one he wasn’t expecting — was the community’s general unfamiliarity with CompTIA. When he talks with employers or others about CompTIA A+ certification, Lee said, people know exactly what he’s talking about. But loop in CompTIA — Creating IT Futures' parent organization that developed and administers the renowned, vendor-neutral A+ certification — and people don’t know as much as they should.
“Now, if I’m talking with a chief technical officer or chief information officer, they know exactly who CompTIA is,” Lee said. “And hiring managers at all levels definitely understand CompTIA A+ certification and what that means. But I was surprised that for many others, CompTIA remains somewhat of an unknown entity. I’d like to help change that.”
And Lee is very passionate about sharing with people living in Chicago’s marginalized communities the huge personal and professional growth opportunities that await them in the tech industry.
“We need to be in the community,” Lee said. “Every day, I encounter employers who really want to diversify their workforces, and who want to engage with non-traditional career pipelines in order to source their new talent in different ways.”
Since taking on his new role a year ago, Lee helped to pilot a class in DuPage County, which has a significant Latinx population. He also organized a graduation ceremony to take place at CompTIA’s national headquarters in Downers Grove, where CompTIA CEO Todd Thibodeaux gave the keynote address.
Lee sees nothing but opportunity in his role.
“In the long run, I’d really like to become the ‘go to’ program for employers in Chicago,” he said. “And I’d like high-school counselors and community-based organizations to think of CompTIA when they’re working with bright, motivated people seeking career guidance. We are helping people launch upwardly mobile and financially rewarding careers in the tech industry. But there’s still a lot more awareness we need to raise.”
Related Information from Creating IT Futures:
- My time was no longer my own before launching IT career (blog post)
- The employment opportunities for me are endless (blog post)
- Permanent IT-Ready Class Launches at NEIU in Chicago (blog post)
- Providing more pathways to tech careers: IT-Ready comes to Illinois’ City of Lights (podcast)
- The Make of Chicago: Highlights from the South Side Mini-Maker Faire (podcast)