For as long as he can remember, IT-Ready Charlotte graduate Brian T. Kiihr has been a goal setter.
Like the time he was 5 years old, taking his first karate lesson, and resolved that he would earn his black belt. Which he did, at 10.
Or that time he joined the Boys Scouts and set his sights on an Eagle Scout Award, an honor less than 1 percent of Scouts receive. He achieved it — along with a Silver Palm, a prestigious award presented to Eagle Scouts who earn additional merit badges.
By then, Kiihr was 18 and headed to college, because society says that’s what smart and ambitious kids should do.
“It was time to go to school, get a piece of paper, and then get a job,” he said. “Unfortunately, I don’t mix well with school, and I have never wanted a ‘job.’ I didn’t know it at the time, but school was not my path. I attempted three different programs at two different universities.”
Struggling to reignite the passion that had driven his previous accomplishments, Kiihr left college and began weight lifting, with the goal of one day competing in the Olympics. He and his girlfriend moved across the country to Charlotte, NC, so Kiihr could work with an internationally renowned weight lifting coach.
“My self-esteem was shot,” he said. “I was looking to pick up the pieces and get back on my feet.”
Three months later, the coach’s sponsoring brand went bankrupt and he could no longer train Kiihr.
“So here I was, 800 miles from home and stuck working as a restaurant server, thinking that is all I could be,” he said. “I spent three years working in that position, and even considered moving myself up to general manager. But that wasn’t the life I wanted, so I started looking for something new.”
Finding a new passion — and getting a foot in the door
Kiihr was searching help-wanted ads on Indeed.com when he saw a promotion for IT-Ready. A long-time computer hobbyist, Kiihr was immediately intrigued.
“I was unemployed and without a degree, and I knew it was time to start a career rather than find a job,” he said. “My only skill set outside of customer service was computers, but I had no way to prove it; I didn’t possess a required piece of paper to apply for any technology positions. I knew I could use technology as a foothold, but first I needed to find a way to get my foot in the door.”
IT-Ready seeks to tackle one of the IT industry’s biggest problems: Tech is hiring, but there's an acute shortage of qualified workers, such that 500,000-plus jobs go unfilled daily.
With the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimating that growth in IT will outpace other industries, these positions offer often-lucrative wages, as well as upward career paths that don’t require a college degree.
Targeting under-employed workers, veterans, minorities, and women, IT-Ready is offered free to charge to participants. During the eight-week, classroom-based, instructor-led program, students learn a wide range of hardware and software skills ranging from building a computer to setting up and managing networks. IT-Ready also teaches critical soft professional skills, such as workplace etiquette, communication and customer service.
“I re-learned how to apply myself, to truly dedicate myself to a cause, and to maintain self-discipline,” Kiihr said. “IT-Ready also provided an environment to practice the soft skills I had not truly practiced in seven or eight years. IT-Ready may be a class that focuses on computers, but it teaches both life and professional skills.”
At the end of IT-Ready, students sit for the CompTIA A+ certification exam, also free of charge, a vendor-neutral certification that has become the IT industry's preferred qualifying credential for an entry-level tech role. Armed with CompTIA A+ certification, graduates are qualified to secure tech positions, with IT-Ready providing job placement services.
Kiihr graduated from IT-Ready Charlotte class in August 2018.
“IT-Ready may be focused on information technology, but it provides so much more than that,” Kiihr said. “IT-Ready allowed me to achieve a small goal — a stepping stone for future goals. I felt like I had not succeeded since I had left high school, but IT-Ready showed me that I was wrong. I hadn’t failed. I had learned what wasn’t for me, what I shouldn’t be doing. IT-Ready reminded me that I can be a leader, that I do have something to offer to the world. IT was just my entry point.”
Moving on an upward trajectory
Shortly after graduating, Kiihr took a technical support position with TechGuru in Charlotte, part of KronosTech LLC. Within weeks of Kiihr’s hiring, a project manager position opened, representing a promotion in both responsibilities and salary. He got the job.
Kiihr now works as the assistant director of operations in Charlotte. His duties involve managing a team of seven people, each of whom leads teams responsible for specific tasks. He also plans and implements policies that systemize and automate TechGuru’s processes.
“I began managing every Wi-Fi installation and service call we had,” he said. “I felt overwhelmed at first, but leadership is a muscle. Just like any muscle that is unused, it doesn’t get smaller, but it does get weaker. Retraining a muscle can be very difficult and demoralizing as you begin to realize just how much you’ve lost. But the last several months grew my leadership, and it continues to grow.”
Now once again, just as in his youth, Kiihr finds himself passionate about an ambitious goal he has set for himself: To one day no longer be dependent upon a paycheck.
“How I got here wasn’t by a flip of a switch,” he said. “It has taken my entire life, and many failures. IT-Ready gave me the chance to remember who I am. IT-Ready was exactly what I needed when I needed it.”
IT-Ready — which established a permanent home in Charlotte in 2018 — is a not-for-profit program of Creating IT Futures, the IT workforce charity founded by CompTIA, a leading voice for the global information technology industry. IT-Ready is made available in Charlotte thanks to funding from TEKsystems and grant support from Google to Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont.
To learn more about IT-Ready Charlotte’s workplace-ready graduates — or to schedule job interviews — contact Natasha Pender, workforce solutions manager, Creating IT Futures.