Garrett Sherrick thought about computers and careers when he was younger but was skeptical he could connect the two.
As a high school student, Sherrick said he “did OK” but struggled with sitting in class every day and assumed he would need a college degree to break into the technology industry. But Sherrick now hasthree industry qualifications – Computer Technology Industry Association certifications – including the CompTIA Network + after completing a 12-week training program this summer.
“I didn’t know the certification paths even existed. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do four years of college, so I never thought I’d be able to do this type of work,” said Sherrick, 26. “I’ve always been fascinated with the technology, the way the computers interact. … I’m so excited to get up and go to work every day.”
Sherrick is among dozens of workers who have taken advantage of free training through JobWorks, a Fort Wayne nonprofit. The organization has seen interest surge for its TechWorks program, described as sort of an IT boot camp.
More than 200 students were trained last year, doubling the number trained in 2019, said John Casella, national director of JobWorks Education and Training Systems.
“Last year was the highest volume yet in terms of student enrollment,” Casella said. “That’s largely because, as we see it, students are rethinking careers. When the world shifted to remote, people began to see more opportunities to work at home and possibly increase income by going with IT.”
JobWorks has provided workforce, education and consulting for 30-plus years, a news release said. The JobWorks Education and Training Systems component started more than eight years ago to provide another option for job seekers to earn short-term industry recognized credentials as they reenter the workforce or move up.
“Our pioneering approach to IT training is needed now more than ever, considering the profound changes to our workforce caused by COVID-19,” Casella said during a phone interview.
TechWorks focuses on IT skills employers need and the teaching includes a 3D simulated work environment where students build a personal computer among other tasks. The program, three days a week over 12 weeks, also includes mindset coaching, job-search strategies, business communication skills, interactive coursework and one-on-one tutoring.
“Our employer partners tell us that the soft skills are as important as the technical skills,” Casella said.
Employers in general have been pressed to find qualified, willing workers. Many IT employers have also struggled to find racial and gender diversity, Casella said.
“A large percentage of our student population is going to come from those who are underrepresented in technology,” Casella said.
Because of grants and other funding, students can get 12 weeks of IT-related training at no cost.
“The amazing return on that investment is that they are walking out of our program making close to $18 an hour on average,” said Casella, who has been with the organization since 2015 and was recently promoted to national director of the JobWorks Education and Training Systems.
Casella expects interest in training to continue but doesn’t anticipate that the TechWorks student numbers will double again so soon. But TechWorks has served 15 students from Fort Wayne since August 2020.
JobWorks has more than 175 employees, mostly in Indiana. The Fort Wayne office has about 15 on staff, said Tom Kavanagh, chief operating officer for JobWorks. The nonprofit provides training in three other states: Pennsylvania, where Casella is based, Ohio and California.
TechWorks gets some funding to train students through Indiana’s Next Level Jobs initiative, Kavanagh said.
“The work we put in ultimately leads us to helping both individuals and businesses,” he said.
Jeremy Holle is CEO of 4EOS, which has been connected with JobWorks since 2011, providing IT support. The Fort Wayne company now helps train students in the nonprofit’s programs.
“What we find beneficial with the engagement is the opportunity to reach many new applicants studying for specific areas that we utilize on a daily basis,” Holle said through email.
His company employs 26 and provides daily IT assistance, such as server and network management, cloud services and help-desk support, for small and medium-sized businesses.
“Recruiting for IT positions is difficult with the current job market,” Holle said, “so having a chance to reach many new faces and explain what we do and why we do it is very helpful.”
Timothy “TJ” Caroway of Fort Wayne completed TechWorks training last year. He has achieved certifications including the CompTIA IT Fundamentals Plus and CompTIA Cloud Essentials Plus.
Caroway is a former Indianapolis resident who had family in Fort Wayne. He previously worked in film and photography but said those jobs were harder to secure once the coronavirus pandemic started last year.
Now, because of the TechWorks training, the 23-year-old is on his second IT-related contract job, earning money from working with a help desk for a medical malpractice insurer.
“It was a complete 180 of my career within a year,” Caroway said last week.
“The 12 weeks went by a lot quicker than I expected. I’ve been recommending the class to other people,” he said. “I went from making minimum wage to probably two or three times that in less than a year and it’s just been continual increases in pay.”
Sherrick graduated high school in northern Kentucky and worked in the fast food business and later a bank call center. Sherrick said he moved to Fort Wayne to live with his parents several years ago after having some medical issues and was out of the workforce for about three years. In evaluating long-term options, he learned about TechWorks.
An employee at Preferred IT Group, Sherrick said he helps on the networking side that includes configuring switches, firewalls and monitoring servers.
TechWorks, he said, “teaches you a lot more than you would expect.”
So finally, Sherrick has connected his longtime interests with his future in work.
“The goal is to grow and learn as much as I can,” Sherrick said. “I don’t necessarily know if I will stay in the networking part of the industry. I have been interested in cybersecurity.
“But as far as a career, I don’t ever see myself leaving IT.”