Earlier this year, Creating IT Futures opened a new permanent IT-Ready site in Phoenix. Free to participants, IT-Ready trains adults for entry-level IT jobs. Since 2012, some 86 percent of IT-Ready graduates have secured full-time tech jobs, and 85 percent of graduates have worked in IT for at least two years.
In Phoenix, Creating IT Futures is partnering with Wounded Warrior Project — and is receiving financial support from Cognizant U.S. Foundation and logistical support from Arizona@Work — to recruit veterans and others under-represented within the tech industry to IT-Ready. The tech sector in Arizona directly contributes nearly 11 percent to the state’s $31-billion economy.
Ryan Withem is the new workforce solutions manager for IT-Ready Phoenix. With more than 14 years of experience in higher education and workforce development, Withem holds a master’s degree in higher education administration from Indiana University, and a master’s degree in human resources management from Indiana Wesleyan University. In his spare time, Withem enjoys the Arizona outdoors with his wife and two daughters.
We recently talked with Withem about his new role, as well as his expectations and hopes for the program.
Q: How did you become aware of the workforce solutions manager opportunity in Phoenix, and what was it about the job that appealed to you?
Withem: I was browsing workforce-related jobs in the Phoenix area when I came across this role. I was familiar with CompTIA and their reputation, so I was immediately intrigued by the opportunity. With my background in higher education and workforce development, I felt this role and work could combine all of my experience and allow me to make a true impact on individuals’ lives and careers.
I’m a huge proponent of training and continued education, but in today’s job market, it’s important to make sure that training and education are directly tied to an applicable and in-demand job and growing career field. IT-Ready checks those boxes. We give folks the opportunity to quickly complete some very valuable training and then we provide them with connections needed to start their career.
(Editor’s note: Creating IT Futures is a workforce charity founded by CompTIA, the voice of the world’s IT industry. CompTIA is a leading advocate for the $4.8 trillion global information technology ecosystem, as well as 7 million+ professionals who design, implement, manage, and safeguard technology powering the U.S. economy.)
Q: You have a robust workforce development background that covers private industry, higher education, state government and, now, non-profit organizations. Based on what you’ve observed and experienced, what it is about the IT-Ready model that you find worth working for? How is IT-Ready different than work you’ve done to date?
Withem: IT-Ready combines the best elements of workforce development programs I have seen.
First and foremost, we’re not concerned just with the profitability of our program. We are focused on utilizing resources to the best of our ability to leverage the best possible outcomes for students. It’s all about getting them in, getting them trained, getting them certified, and then getting them employed. Our organization’s decisions are guided by the simple principle of “what will give our students the best chance to succeed?” And that’s not always true for other programs.
Second, IT-Ready really is “boots on the ground” — we find individuals, take them all the way through the program to employment, and then track their growth and success after the fact. So many workforce programs have big, lofty goals— but when you drill down to fine details, either the intricacies aren’t there, or parts of the work are granted out to other groups and organizations. IT-Ready controls the entire process, from admission to employment. As a result, we can tweak and change things along the way to ensure the best success for our participants.
Finally, and arguably most importantly, I haven’t come across anyone in the organization who doesn’t understand our “why.” Everyone gets why we’re doing what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, and what our main driver is: Student success. It’s refreshing to work in an organization where everyone is rowing in the same direction.
Q: No doubt you hit the ground running in Phoenix. Have you had to do anything so far that you didn’t expect as part of your job responsibilities?
Withem: I haven’t had to do anything unexpected as yet, but there really is a start-up mentality when Creating IT Futures opens a new IT-Ready site. Anything and everything that comes along in Phoenix that ultimately ties back to our program’s success falls under my care — there’s nothing too small or too large.
It certainly keeps me busy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I hope to look back in a few years — when we’re consistently cranking out graduates and getting folks employed in Phoenix — and be able to say I had a hand in the good work we’re doing here.
Even though I’m a bit of a “one-man show” right now, I have never felt alone or without resources. Creating IT Futures’ workforce managers in other cities faced some of the same start-up challenges I have, and they’ve been amazingly helpful. And Kathy Brennan, our national director of workforce solutions, has done an incredible job creating a true team environment, even though our team resides in five different cities. We are constantly sharing best practices and tapping each other as resources.
Q: What have you accomplished so far that you are proud or excited about?
Withem: I’m most proud of our students. From our first class, 14 participants earned their CompTIA A+ certification and now are employed in the tech industry. In our second class, 17 participants earned their CompTIA A+ certification and eight of them found employment in IT within a month of graduating. Our other students have solid opportunities in the pipeline.
IT-Ready Phoenix students not only are gaining invaluable tech skills, but it’s been awesome to see them grow in confidence and professionalism as well.
Also, I couldn’t be more grateful for our partners at Arizona@Work. From sharing space and resources, to helping IT-Ready Phoenix connect with employers and community partners, to assisting with mock interviews, Rob Stenson and his team have been an amazing resource and partner. I’m excited for the employer partnerships we’ve built so far to get students placed.
Q. What remains on your to-do list moving forward?
Withem: My to-do list moving forward includes MORE — more employer relationships, more community partnerships, and more overall exposure for our program in the Phoenix market. I would love nothing more than to have a huge list of qualified and competent individuals vying to get into the program, and a huge list of employers hungry to hire our graduates.