ITWorks changes lives and bolsters businesses

In a computer disassembly lab, students take apart a desktop computer and reassemble it fully.
In a computer disassembly lab, students take apart a desktop computer and reassemble it fully.

By Kathy Canavan

Janelle Jackson was about to pay $4,000 for a computer certification course when she stumbled upon ITWorks at a job fair.

“I said, ‘You have a program to help me get into the IT field without a degree, without certification, without experience? I want in,’” Jackson said.

She said she tears welled up in her eyes when the ITWorks reps helped her apply.

After a free 11-week course, a five-week internship, and three months as a contract worker, Jackson is now a full-time service desk support specialist for the state.

Philadelphia-based TechImpact, the nonprofit that runs ITWorks, has been offering programs in Delaware for more than three years. Admission is highly competitive. They accept 18 students each session from a pool of more than 100 applicants.

Instructor Alix Davis Cummin said they are not looking for applicants whose mothers found the course for them; they want self-motivated 18-to-26-year-olds with growth mind-sets that make them eager to learn all they can about information technology.

Cummin said 70 percent of graduates earn CompTIA A+ certification, and they all earn Cisco IT Essential certificates.

About 70 percent of the graduates get jobs immediately, and a few head off to college, she said. Those who go to work usually earn $12 to $17 an hour[to start, and, within a year, many have permanent jobs making $35,000 a year plus benefits.

“TechImpact realized there was a gap in what was available for students who perhaps weren’t going to traditional college,” Cummin said. “They created the programs, realizing that professional and corporate training had to be included in the model because there is a skills gap between what students have and what companies are looking to fill. We have students who have worked through some of the issues like attendance.”

Now companies like Barclaycard, Capital One, Accenture, and Christiana Care welcome ITWorks grads, as do the state and nonprofits such as Girl Scouts and the Boys and Girls Club.

At Barclaycard, the program worked so well that a staff attorney reverse-engineered it to get a Barclaycard employee in. Larry Drexler, the credit card issuer’s head counsel, got to know a young custodian who was very bright but needed an opportunity. He directed him to ITWorks.

“We hope to have him back here in a different capacity when he graduates,” said Jocelyn Stewart, Barclaycard’s director for community investment.

Barclaycard offered two-year internships to several ITWorks grads. Stewart said she anticipates they will all be hired in.

ITWorks is a win-win for young techies and local corporations.

Barclaycard’s Stewart put it this way: “We found them to be fantastic. ITWorks is an alternative pipeline to hiring talent that should be considered by all corporations in Delaware.”

And graduate Janelle Jackson said:

“I appreciate the program so much. It pretty much changed my life.” ♦

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