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April 6, 2017

Hennepin County puts IT-Ready grads to work migrating workstations

HennepinCountyAs IT release manager for Hennepin County, Minnesota, Nicole West is overseeing the daunting task of migrating 10,000 workstations to the Microsoft Windows 10 operating system.

Hennepin County, with its county seat being Minneapolis, employs thousands of people and serves another million citizens — every one of them dependent upon those workstations for one reason or another.

West recognized that Hennepin County needed a small, dedicated IT team to manage those conversions. Contract IT consultants, while an option, were expensive. At the same time, migrations can be diplomatic affairs, requiring seasoned and sensitive technicians with strong customer service and communication skills — skills not always found at an entry-level pay grade.

Then West learned about IT-Ready. IT-Ready is a free, eight-week, hands-on educational and training program that prepares participants for the CompTIA A+ certification exam, followed by entry-level IT jobs at area companies. IT-Ready is a program of Creating IT Futures, an IT workforce charity founded by CompTIA.

IT-Ready teaches participants important tech industry skills such as building a computer from parts, installing software, troubleshooting problems and setting up and managing networks. They also learn “softer” professional skills such as communication, customer service and conflict resolution. Upon passing their CompTIA A+ certification exams at the end of the program, graduates often find entry-level employment in the role of help-desk or technical support.

IT-Ready’s emphasis on strong communication skills appealed to West.

“Good, clear, tactful communication is vital,” she said. “When you’re dealing with migrations, being able to express yourself well in an email can be just as important as the technical skills.”

West interviewed IT-Ready graduates with the intention of hiring one or two of them — that is, if she found them qualified — for two-year contract employment. To date, she’s hired eight IT-Ready graduates.

“I was so incredibly impressed with both their technical skills and customer-service skills,” she said. “I can always train a person how to update specific technical information, but I can’t train people on good customer service — that’s a skill set you either have or you don’t.”

The IT-Ready graduates are, in alphabetical order: Catalina Bauer, Vanessa Dalkhaa, Theresa Demby, Kathryn Helmke, Eric White, Stephen Alberts, Hamza A. Yousef and Houseng Xiong.

The graduates joined Hennepin County as contract employees about a year ago and are handling the Windows 10 migration beautifully, West said. With their contracts scheduled to run out within the year, West said she already is looking within Hennepin County on their behalf for potential new job opportunities.

“They came in as a group and have really established themselves as a team with a sense of accountability and ownership,” she said. “They are so excited to learn, they want to do a good job and they all give 100 percent. I would love to see Hennepin County keep them on within the organization.”

While anyone can apply to IT-Ready, the program gives priority to displaced and under-employed workers, as well as populations of people under-represented within the IT industry, such as women, ethnic minorities and veterans. West said that mission made her feel even better about Hennepin County’s partnership with IT-Ready.

“I feel better at the end of the day, knowing I am impacting someone’s life for the better and helping my community overall,” she said. “It aligns with Hennepin County’s core values about the importance of a strong community.”