Inspiring Success

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October 6, 2015

Forging greater access to tech careers in Minnesota

SueWallaceWhich state is adding technology jobs at the fastest clip? Maybe California, home to Apple, Cisco, Google, HP and Yahoo? Or perhaps Washington, where Amazon and Microsoft are headquartered?

Actually, it’s Minnesota, according to Forbes. If that surprises you, it’s because you made the same mistake many people do — that is, presuming technology jobs exist only at so-called technology companies.

The truth is that technology jobs exist everywhere that corporations do, no matter what their line of business, says Sue Wallace, executive director of Minnesota for the Creating IT Futures Foundation.

“Minnesota is home to many Fortune 500 corporations, including UnitedHealthcare, Target, General Mills and 3M, and all of them have robust IT needs and functions,” Wallace said. “And that’s true of all corporations these days. No matter what industry they’re in — airlines, banking, health care, retail — all companies are evolving into technology companies. We all work for technology companies.”

And, as the reporter in Forbes points out, those corporations are hiring armies of technology workers.

Creating a robust network in Minnesota that trains and prepares those armies of IT workers is among Wallace’s responsibilities. She starts with the message that technology careers are accessible to everybody.

“People mistakenly believe that IT is out of their reach,” she said. “People think you need to be a math genius. Or, that you wear a pocket protector and work in a basement by yourself. And that is just not the reality of IT.”

To help address the IT worker shortage in Minnesota, the Creating IT Futures Foundation launched in 2012 an intensive training and job placement program called Paul. Since the program’s start, more than 150 individuals have graduated from IT-Ready, with nearly 95 percent earning their CompTIA A+ certification and 80 percent moving into paid IT roles with area companies after graduation.

Wallace joined the foundation after spending nearly 14 years managing and developing programs and writing grants for Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis. Before that, she worked in the IT industry as the operations manager for MicroAge

Wallace’s professional experience — having worked in both the IT field and philanthropy — gives her unique perspective about what works and what doesn’t and how best to move forward the cause of developing a well-equipped IT workforce.

“I really believe in IT-Ready and I’ve seen how it can change people’s lives for the better,” she said.

One idea Wallace is considering is how to diversify IT training. For example, when IT-Ready students graduate with their CompTIA A+ certification in hand, they are prepared for a variety of entry-level positions.

“But we know that there are other specializations within the IT industry where there is tremendous need,” Wallace said. “Take, for example, cyber security. Hardly a day goes by when we don’t see news about a highly visible security breach. Could we build an IT-Ready model that focuses on security and helps equip new technologists to fight the bad guys?”

Another example is project management, Wallace said, as companies seek skilled leaders who can oversee complicated efforts involving teams of people.

“There are people who don’t necessarily want to take a computer apart and put it back together, but they are great leaders who are capable of motivating teams of technologists to successfully execute projects, and I don’t see a good on-ramp for that role right now,” she said.

Currently, the foundation and EMERGE Development Community are collaborating to bring IT-Ready to adults ages 18 to 24 living in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis, which has a large population of immigrants. The 9-week program will be hosted by EMERGE and funded by the City of Minneapolis Employment and Training and the Pohlad Family Foundation. The class includes 16 hours of credentialed customer service training taught by Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis.

And earlier this year, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges designated IT-Ready as one of Minneapolis’ three programs to work with TechHire Initiative, a new White House initiative aimed at creating pathways to better, high-paying tech jobs and meeting urgent employer demand across the United States.

TechHire is a multi-sector initiative to help Americans gain the skills they need through universities and community colleges, but also non-traditional approaches like “coding boot camps,” and high-quality online courses that can rapidly train workers for a well-paying job, often in just a few months.

“Working closely with community partners, we can offer this career program free to hard-working people that seek a hand up, not a hand out,” Wallace said. “We’re putting people on a growth career track so they can secure family-sustaining wages and long-term job prospects, all while building up the tech workforce in Minnesota.”