Forging new futures: Technology training program boosts retiree, vet

Through CompTIA's technology training program, IT-Ready, a retiree needing to work again and an unemployed Army National Guard vet forge new futures.

This is the second part of a two-part story on the IT-Ready Apprentice Program. The IT-Ready Apprentice Program is the marquee program of Computing Technology Industry Association's (CompTIA) Creating IT Futures Foundation. The mission of the foundation is to provide computer job training to people who might not otherwise find their way to a career in IT.

More than 450 people applied to be part of the intensive eight-week program held in Cincinnati and Minneapolis/St. Paul. Only 25 people were selected for the program. These are the stories of two IT-Ready participants: Brant Backes and Diane Williams.

Brant Backes

Brant Backes wasn't ready to put much stock in a technology training program his sister's friend saw advertised in the local paper. He thought it might be a scam. With so many people out of work, there were a lot of get-rich-quick type schemes out there.

Brant BackesBrant Backes

But after more than a year of unemployment due to a layoff and concerned for his family's future, the 34-year-old Osceola, Wis., father of two decided it couldn't hurt to do some research. When he found the Creating IT Futures Foundation's IT-Ready program was a legitimate technology training program associated with CompTIA, his feelings changed.

Backes has long had an interest in computers. He completed courses in networking and received top scores and earned an associate's degree in supervisory management, but none of it was enough to land a job.

"My wife and I talked frequently about what we were going to do and how we would feed our family," Backes said. "I always wanted to get into computers and hoped this program might help. I was running out of options and decided to apply."

When Backes learned he was accepted, he was "speechless," and eager to head to the Twin Cities for training. Going into class, Backes felt he knew more than the average computer user, but was by no means an expert. He had wanted to take his A-Plus (A+) certification exam some time ago, but was afraid he didn't know enough. Every part of his IT-Ready classroom experience, from the instructor to fellow students, and even the instruction materials, bolstered his confidence.

"I sat in the chair for a couple minutes to catch my breath before I clicked 'next' to see my score," Backes said. "I was overwhelmed with joy when I passed."

His success had special poignancy. One day during the fifth week of the program Backes got a call that his father, who was in failing health, had taken a turn for the worse. Backes was at his father's side before he passed away that evening, and he was in class the next day. When his instructor asked why, Backes said it was what his father would want.

A year ago, I never thought I would be where I am now -- I feel like I won the lottery.

Brant Backes,
IT-Ready participant

"[My father] told me that he wanted me to have a better life than him, I promised him I would do my best," Backes said.

The confidence Backes gained during the program carried over when it came time to interview for jobs.

This month, after just a couple of days off following his annual Army National Guard training, Backes starts an internship as a desktop analyst at HealthPartners Inc. in Minneapolis. He sees a future full of promise, and an opportunity to keep his word to his father. He hopes his success will inspire continued support for the Creating IT Futures and foundations like it.

"Overall, a year ago, I never thought I would be where I am now," Backes said. "I feel like I won the lottery."

Diane Williams

One Sunday morning, Diane Williams recalled, she received an email about the CompTIA IT-Ready Apprenticeship program. It piqued her curiosity. Williams was retired, but was looking for work. She had loved the 15 years she spent working in various IT jobs at Procter & Gamble Co. and Hewlett-Packard Co. Now, in her mid-50s, the Cincinnati resident found herself out of the workforce caring for an ailing relative.

Thinking the technology training program could be the opportunity she'd been looking for -- a way to re-enter the workforce in difficult economic times -- she filled out the application and waited for a call.

When she learned she was accepted, she didn't hesitate to sign on. For many applicants the required commitment of 8 weeks, seven hours a day was too much. It would mean taking time away from her job search, but Williams wanted to make it work.

"This was a big commitment and I was up for the challenge," Williams said. "I took this leap of faith because it was an investment in myself and a pathway to my future endeavors."

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At Procter & Gamble, Williams' IT roles included computer operator, network monitor, call center representative and general technical support. In 2003, when Procter & Gamble outsourced its IT organization to Hewlett Packard, she retained a technical support role in Web services. "I loved the variety of assignments in IT because I feel like I was on the cutting edge of technology," Williams said.

Even with that experience, Williams had "a lot to learn" in the IT-Ready program. But, she said, the level of instruction and the small class size helped. Extra help was always available, and after a couple of weeks the class bonded like a team, studying together and rooting for each other's success. At exam time, she adopted a classmate's "Failure is not an option" mantra as her own, and it paid off.

Last week Williams started her apprenticeship at Hebron, Ky.-based Pomeroy IT Solutions Inc., working in the call center.

"Working for this company will enable me to build on my previous experience and gain knowledge that is relevant for today," Williams said. "Hopefully I will have the opportunity to move up in the company and expand my knowledge. I hope other companies and individuals take notice and partner with the IT-Ready program."

Read about the IT-Ready Apprentice Program in "CompTIA gives unemployed a fresh start with computer job training."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Karen Goulart, Features Writer.

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