Inspiring Success

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April 21, 2014

IT-Ready Students: Getting to A+

KathyBrannan Kathy Brennan
We talked with Kathy Brennan, manager of IT-Ready in Minneapolis/St. Paul to learn more about the program and its participants. Here is what she had to say.

Tell us a little bit about your IT-Ready participants.
Each session, we typically have a group of 20 participants. In the current class, four of them are female. We’re hoping to bring those numbers up in time. The average age is 33 with a couple of college graduates, a small business owner, a veteran, a former construction worker, a retail salesman, and a bartender. Typically, we see a wide variety of backgrounds. We have good ethnic diversity as well and strive to help groups under-represented in IT to gain greater representation in the field.

You have way more applications than you do participant slots. What criteria do you use to determine who gets into IT-Ready and who does not?
We have more than 200 people who apply per session and last session had nearly 300. After a series of assessments and interviews, we typically invite 20 participants to join the program. The assessments make sure that the individuals have at least a 10th grade aptitude in math and reading, as well as an understanding of workplace expectations. The interviews determine whether someone is personable and motivated. Usually it’s pretty clear who is ready for the course.

I should add that this past class is the first time we had all 20 who started the course to finish. Typically there are a lot of barriers that our participants contend with. So it’s really great to see such a high percentage sticking to the regimen.

How do most of the participants find the IT-Ready program?
They reside within 35-40 miles of the Twin Cities area. They find out about the program through workforce centers, online job boards, print and online advertising, partner organization referrals and fliers we distribute around the Twin Cities at places such as libraries and community centers. Now that we have close to 100 alumni, word of mouth is becoming more commonplace — something we’re really grateful for. This past class is the first time we actually had to wait-list individuals we felt were fully qualified. Many of them will be able to enroll in a future class. And we’re increasing from two classes a year to three classes in 2014 to meet the needs. And it’s likely we’ll add a fourth class in 2015. It really all depends on the demand from employers, because we don’t want to waste a student’s time to train if there isn’t an apprenticeship waiting in the wings.

What is the typical mindset of an IT-Ready participant as he or she begins the program?
Participants are typically extremely thankful for the opportunity. Also, it’s not uncommon for them to feel a little unsure on day one as to what to expect. Many of these individuals are in dire financial straits and know this is a great opportunity for them, so the pressure is on them. We had one gentleman who was injured a few years ago and could no longer work construction. His family’s home mortgage is being paid by a family friend while he trains to become IT-Ready. In another IT-Ready city, we had an individual attend IT-Ready while spending nights in a homeless shelter. Today he has multiple IT certifications and is working in the field. These stories inspire other participants to work hard, and most participants succeed in gaining full-time, permanent employment.

What is a typical day like for an IT-Ready participant?
Our day starts at 9 a.m. and goes until 4 p.m., during which time they learn professional business skills as well as technical skills needed to pass the A+ certification exam. It’s not all lecture and note-taking. There are hands-on exercises with hardware and software alike. We bring in speakers including employers and IT-Ready graduates who are now working meaningful, well-paying IT jobs. For a whole day in Week Seven we have employers come in to conduct mock interviews with the students, to prepare them for the real thing. This is very intense and typically wakes them up, giving them some tools to help them improve their interviewing as well as resume. We’ve also held workshops on leadership and specific software packages that they may encounter in the workplace, like ServiceNOW help-desk support ticket software.

I should also mention that while some of our students work part-time jobs outside of class, the course is quite rigorous. It’s not uncommon to find students who arrive early and stay late, either getting extra help from the instructor or working in a study group with classmates. At home they can go online and take practice tests and see how they are doing, then build the skills they are missing. That way when they sit for the CompTIA A+ exams, they are fully prepared and can pass on the first try, though they have two tries to pass each of the two exams.
See a typical day’s schedule here.

What is the toughest part of the program?
We are very strict about attendance. If you miss more than one day, you are removed from the program. If you are late more than twice, you are removed from the program. We do not make exceptions. We do this because we know future employers expect employees to be prompt and to show up. If you don’t show up for work, or you’re chronically late, you’ll get fired. That’s how the real world works. So that’s how IT-Ready works, too.

What is your favorite thing about the IT-Ready program?
My favorite thing about IT-Ready is helping individuals who have a passion for IT get started in the industry. I enjoy talking with employers about our program and speaking to them on behalf of our participants. My absolute favorite part is when a former participant sends me an e-mail or calls to tell me they were offered a position. That’s what it’s all about. We’re not just training people for the sake of training. We succeed when an IT-Ready graduate is earning money and providing for themselves and their family. There’s nothing to like a good job to bring someone out of poverty.