Kendal Castillo spent eight years in the service industry “dealing with the absolute worst,” he said, and frustrated with his job options. Before joining IT-Ready, he’d tried customer service, waiting tables and insurance sales.
“I had no clue what I wanted to with my life,” Castillo said. “I always liked technology and wanted a stepping stone but I never knew how to approach it. Then I found IT-Ready and it basically changed my life.”
Castillo recently graduated with 20 of his classmates from IT-Ready, a free, full-time training course designed to prepare people for paid roles in technology. For eight weeks, he and his classmates met for six hours a day at NEIU’s El Centro Campus in Chicago and studied technology and material related to the CompTIA A+ certification exam.
Thanks to sponsors like Boeing and Cognizant U.S. Foundation and partnerships with Wounded Warrior Project, IT-Ready gives people a chance to get their foot in the door in technology. Books, classes and exam vouchers, it’s all free, and on graduation day, the students meet with technology companies and IT recruiters to help them get a feel for job interviews and start making connections. Plus alumni get free online training and exam vouchers to train for CompTIA Network+ and CompTIA Security+ certifications.
“I made CompTIA Security+ my goal, but I’m also a very hands-on kind of guy. I like to get my hands dirty, so I’m hoping for a field technician job,” said Castillo, who plans to use his technology career to enable his move to sunny Los Angeles. “I like breaking things and fixing them up again.”
A Life-Changing Program
Graduate Nicole Sain’s life changed just before the IT-Ready class kicked off in February. She first got laid off and then had a set of twins — newborns who arrived just two weeks before IT-Ready started.
Juggling it all felt overwhelming at some points. “I vividly recall around week two, thinking: ‘Am I going to make it?’” she said. Of course she did and on graduation day she shared with her class that she’d won a 12-week apprenticeship with Cisco Systems. “IT-Ready’s reputation speaks for itself and when I was speaking with the program director, he saw it on my resume and saw how driven I was.”
The apprenticeship includes a few weeks of training in California and then full-time work back in Chicago. She’s also been volunteering as a network field engineer, shadowing professionals to get a sense of the job from the inside of the server room. “I’m forever grateful for IT-Ready,” Sain said. “This place laid the groundwork for my new career.”
Before IT-Ready, graduate Dom Simpson was working for a heavy machinery company in Peoria, Illinois, cleaning parts in a warehouse. “I wasn’t too happy with myself,” Simpson said. “I needed a change for the better.”
When he was accepted by IT-Ready, he committed to the program and rented an apartment three hours from home so he could take classes in Chicago. Now he has graduated from IT-Ready, earned his CompTIA A+ certificate and is applying for jobs in the city, where he definitely plans to stay.
“I really liked when we were going through the command prompts, so I think I’ll eventually try to get into IT security,” Simpson said. Using the CompTIA Career Roadmap, he plans first to dive into the loopholes and weak points of networking before taking on the security challenge.
“My confidence is through the roof, I’d say. After going through the class and passing all the tests, I’m feeling really good,” he said.
Planning Out Their Tech Careers
Before the graduation ceremony, the IT-Ready class met with recruiters and tech companies, who said they were impressed with the technology candidates.
“It says a lot when they one, get the education and then two, have the certification in hand,” said Devin Franke, a human resources assistant for the managed services provider Switchfast. He called the class a room full of highly personable and well trained candidates for entry level technology jobs.
“Since we look at resumes very frequently, whenever we see an A+ on the resume, that’s a gold star,” said Franke. “And we at least give it a second look. At least. So I think these were great candidates.”
Sammy Gorbett, a professional recruiter and the technical youth coordinator for Brooksource, said she loves meeting IT-Ready graduates because they’re both trained and have a good understanding about where to start.
“The CompTIA students really do seem like they are ready to get their feet in the door,” she said. “What I love about IT-Ready students is hearing how open minded they are, and that their expectations are super realistic.”
Senior IT Resources Manager Roy Mella with Kelly Services said he could sense the energy and excitement in this IT-Ready graduating class. “I don’t think we’ve worked with another program where it combined training and certification like A+, so the graduates here have an edge,” he said. “The folks seem more hungry. They really want to get that first opportunity.”
‘You Can Completely Change Careers in 8 Weeks’
Before IT-Ready, graduate Nathaniel Perkins was laid off as a technician from a TV and internet company and spent years looking for a way back into technology. He called IT-Ready, “life changing and life rearranging.”
“The amount you learn feels insurmountable when you first see it,” Perkins said. “You don’t see it at first, but once you hit that practice test, you start to see how much you’re retaining.”
On the day of graduation, the room fell into an impressed silence when Perkins told them his CompTIA A+ test score, followed by handshakes and high fives.
“I did well, and I’m very proud of my results,” he said. “The weight off your shoulders is tremendous.”
His mom and brother game to graduation and filmed Perkins during his heartfelt graduation speech. “This process takes people a year to accomplish and we did it in eight weeks,” said Perkins. “Now we’re graduating and sitting right in front of someone for a job interview. With IT-Ready you can completely change careers in eight weeks, and that’s incredible.”
For more on IT-Ready and how you can apply for the program, visit Creating IT Futures.
—Michelle Lange is a writer and designer living in Chicago.