As a stay-at-home mom with three young children — including a set of twins — Kathy Santana Wilkins kept plenty busy. Eventually, though, she longed to get back into the workforce.
But doing what, exactly? Not many companies will overlook years-long absences from employment, and Wilkins wasn’t eager to resume the business-to-business marketing work she did before she had her babies.
“My husband and I came across an article about the IT-Ready program,” she said. “I was already looking into a grad program for IT, but we couldn’t afford for me to go back to school. I’ve always had an interest in IT, but I felt I was too ‘into marketing’ to walk away and start fresh. Being at home gave me the chance to pursue a dream I’ve always had.”
A non-profit education and training program, IT-Ready is offered at no cost to participants and gives them the knowledge and skills needed for an entry-level position in the IT industry.
In IT-Ready, students take apart and rebuild desktop computers and other hardware; learn about motherboards, printers, peripheral devices, memory and physical storage, connections and mobile devices; set up computer networks and troubleshoot networks, displays, printers, and operating systems; configure operating systems and hardware; and secure networks, systems and data.
During their eight weeks of training, IT-Ready students receive critical professional development in “soft” skills such as communication, presentation, teamwork, collaboration and problem solving. They also sit for the CompTIA A+ exam, a vendor-neutral certification many employers desire because it demonstrates an individual understands key desktop and help-desk technical support duties and skills.
Like many other IT-Ready prospects, Wilkins felt skeptical about the “free education” offer — but she applied anyway.
“It sounded too good to be true,” she said. “There was only one way to find out how real it was, though, so I applied.”
IT-Ready’s curriculum was rigorous, Wilkins said — but it also proved to be the most rewarding educational experience of her lifetime. Coming from someone who earned her associate’s and bachelor’s degrees over a 10-year period, Wilkins added, that’s saying something.
“I never thought I’d be able to take a computer apart, name each part and explain their functions,” she said. “Who knew that could bring such joy? I felt so accomplished. IT-Ready gave me the confidence I was lacking. It honestly was the best experience I’ve ever encountered.”
Wilkins credits two of IT-Ready’s enthusiastic instructors, Adam Turner and Sean Callahan, for helping her understand material that sometimes felt over her head.
“The material, at times, felt like someone was speaking alien,” she said. “Adam broke it down into simple form and left me wanting to learn more.”
Upon graduating from IT-Ready and earning her CompTIA A+ certification, Wilkins began working with IT staffing firm TEKSystems and secured a position as a technical support agent at Cigna.
“Learning how to troubleshoot computers and laptops, and set up routers and modems gave me the knowledge I need to provide top-quality support and service to Cigna’s employees and customers,” she said.
As for other people considering IT-Ready, Wilkins urges them to “go for it.”
“You have nothing to lose,” she said. “Also, I’d tell people not to doubt themselves. If you work hard, it’ll pay off.”