JFCS Partnering with CompTIA Tech to Serve Twin Cities Families in Need

By Karen Stinneford

For years, employment counselors at Jewish Family and Children's Service of Minneapolis encouraged their low-income clients to pursue training as a certified nursing assistant (CNA).

Their rationale was sound: CNA training is affordable, requires no college education, and can be completed quickly. And jobs abound; a CNA won’t lack for work.

The certification put JFCS clients on a path toward better financial stability and long-term independence — certainly more than what is possible with retail, service or hospitality employment. 

“What we were doing was very good,” said Leah Temkin, career development program manager at JFCS.

But Temkin and her colleagues recognized there were drawbacks to CNA certification.

CNA work is physically laborious and emotionally difficult. Pay isn’t great — the median income is $14.25 an hour — with raises sporadic and small. And moving up the nursing career ladder requires time-consuming and logistically challenging college-level education and training.

So Temkin was immediately intrigued when she attended a meeting at which a representative from the IT industry’s leading trade organization, CompTIA, pitched the idea of short-term tech training that could lead to lucrative and upwardly mobile employment for her clients.

“When I first heard about the program, what caught my attention was the connection with CompTIA, the parent organization that issues credentials that the tech industry wants and relies upon,” she said. “These weren’t some amateurs working out of their mama’s basement. These were sharp people who knew what the tech industry needed and they were determined to provide it.”

Temkin returned to her JFCS office and immediately shared the information with her colleagues, including Sue Wallace, who then worked as a program development manager at JFCS.

“I remember Leah coming back from that meeting pretty excited about what she had just heard,” Wallace recalled.


Turning to tech

The tech industry appealed to JFCS employment counselors as an alternative career path for their clients for several reasons.

One, the median salary of an entry-level, help-desk role is $26 an hour — significantly higher than a CNA would earn even with years of professional experience.

Two, tech jobs typically are not physically laborious or emotionally draining.

Three, tech jobs offer benefits such as health and dental insurance and retirement savings plans — a huge boon for income-insecure families who lack access to health care and for whom a medical problem can trigger a crisis.

Finally, the tech industry offers across-the-board upward mobility through certifications — no college necessary.

“And the more Leah talked about it, the more excited I got, too,” said Wallace, who had worked for nearly a decade for a technology services and solutions company before she joined JFCS. “I knew people thought you have to be a brain surgeon to work with technology. But I also knew that just isn’t true.”

And Temkin and Wallace were concerned that their organization was not alone in training new CNAs.

“Other organizations in the Twin Cities were placing people into the CNA arena, and eventually that was going to constrain the CNA job market as well as salaries,” Wallace recalled. “But almost nobody was training people in technology. Honestly, most people are afraid of it.”

The JFCS team agreed that partnering with CompTIA’s charitable pilot tech training program could position their agency’s low-income clients for greater life success.

“It sounded like a very good idea,” Temkin said. “So Sue wrote a grant proposal and we were able to secure funding and begin offering the program to our clients.”

The IT-Ready Apprentice Program officially launched in Minneapolis/St. Paul in 2012 as a nonprofit training program of Creating IT Futures, the tech workforce charity founded by CompTIA.


IT-Ready Apprentice Program, aka CompTIA Tech Career Academy version 1.0

CompTIA and its workforce charity, Creating IT Futures, had a vested interest in the IT-Ready Apprentice Program that went beyond the altruism of training income-insecure people for new careers paying family-sustaining wages.

Currently, the tech industry struggles to fill vacancies because of a lack of qualified candidates. Even with a worldwide pandemic recession, the $4-trillion global technology industry likely will suffer less than most industries, according to the New York Times.

“The tech industry has jobs. But candidates who are qualified for those jobs are already employed doing that same work for other employers,” Wallace said. “When that happens, you get poaching — employers going out and recruiting from other companies. That’s a problem.”

In one particularly ironic case of poaching, Creating IT Futures ended up hiring Wallace away from JCFS and putting her in charge of its career programming.

In fairness, Wallace saw a job description of the newly created role on her own, and applied thinking that if she got it, she could leverage her tech and philanthropic work experiences, along with her knowledge of the many life challenges people face when trying to move out of poverty.

Creating IT Futures officials agreed, and Wallace now is vice president of student and career services at CompTIA Tech Career Academy.

“The whole reason I am on this side now is because I was connected on the other side first,” she said. “My time at JFCS prepared me for this role.”   

Since launching eight years ago in the Twin Cities, the program has changed starting with a new name: CompTIA Tech Career Academy. And the apprenticeship that followed graduation has been dropped. It turned out companies were so eager for new technologists that they hired graduates outright, no trial period needed.

Other aspects of the program didn’t change — namely the practical knowledge, technical expertise, soft skills development, CompTIA A+ certification and career services.

“We offer a full solution of training, job readiness, certification and job placement assistance,” Wallace said. “That’s appealing to individuals who participate in our program. And it’s appealing to partner charitable programs like Jewish Family and Children’s Services.”


Partnerships that benefit everyone involved

JFCS employment counselors like Sue Thompson continue to refer clients to CompTIA Tech Career Academy.

“Many JFCS clients give us permission to work collaboratively with the program managers over there so if, for example, a client misses class, they’ll let me know so I can find out what happened,” she said. “And if it’s something like a car won’t start or someone needs bus passes, we have resources to assist them. If there are barriers to them completing their training, we want to help.”

Thompson recalled that when one client attended CompTIA Tech Career Academy during the pandemic, JFCS provided them with a laptop table so they could move to a quiet space within their home to attend online class.   

And she remains pleased with the program’s success.

“The majority of the people I have worked with who completed the program definitely were able to secure jobs and lift themselves out of income insecurity, which is exactly what we hope to see,” she said. 

Wallace agreed. “We love to work with an organization like JFCS that is so well respected by everybody within the community. I will talk to a potential new funding body and if I mention JFCS, they’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, we know them’ because their integrity is so renowned.”

CompTIA Tech Career Academy would love to build similarly mutually beneficial relationships with other nonprofit organizations in all communities it serves, Wallace added.

“The symbiotic partnership we’ve developed with JFCS is a model of win-win-win: It’s a win for the individual who secures rewarding employment, it’s a win for JFCS which helped lift a client out of poverty, and it’s a win for us because we help both the individual and the tech industry at large,” Wallace said. 


Photo caption: CompTIA Tech staff celebrate with JFCS staff during graduation for IT-Ready Technical Support students. Left to right: Chad Green of CompTIA Tech, Karin Nordmeyer of CompTIA Tech, Marah Johnson of JFCS, Kathy Brennan of CompTIA Tech, and Sue Thompson of JFCS.


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