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By Mark Emery

The economic devastation wrought by COVID-19 has been staggering.

Over 30 million Americans unemployed. Threats of a small business “die-off.” Worries of recession, plus more layoffs, furloughs, spending cuts, and hiring freezes seemingly everywhere you look.

With so many struggling, it’s easy to assume that career prospects in every field are similarly bleak. But there’s at least one sector where people are still being hired, where work is still being carried out.

That field is IT. As companies shift their operations online, the demand – the need – for trained IT professionals and the technical support they can provide has grown to all-time highs. And LeaderQuest grads are living proof. Between March and April, LQ helped place 100 of them in fulfilling new careers, bucking the difficult trends seen elsewhere.

We caught up with three of these student success stories to get the specifics of each one’s journey into IT, from having an initial interest in the industry to receiving that offer letter for a position within it.

Their experiences show that with the right assistance, reinventing yourself doesn’t have to be all that painful, even in a global pandemic.

A New Job and an Instant Promotion

Chris DeWittFor Chris DeWitt, the sheer amount of IT openings is part of what caught his attention.

“The possibilities absolutely seemed endless,” he says. “There was no shortage of positions to apply for, and that was really exciting.”

DeWitt, 44, spent the first two decades of his career in the U.S. Air Force. It’s what brought him to Colorado Springs, where he has remained with his family since retiring from the service in 2013.

A talented photographer, DeWitt went on to work in creative areas in the years that followed, until last year when a stark realization hit him.

“I kind of plateaued,” he says. “It was my dream job. But I didn’t see an opportunity for growth anymore.”

That led him to IT, which led him to LeaderQuest. After being drawn in by “a bunch of smiling faces” at a job fair, DeWitt got to know some of the Colorado Springs LQ team, including Employment Development Manager Shari Carroll and Career Training Consultant George Winn.

He was thrilled to learn that not only could LeaderQuest provide him with the IT training he sought, it could also help him secure government funding to complete that training for free.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” DeWitt says. “It almost seemed too good to be true, that VET TEC was going to pay for this and then this program was going to assist in job placement. I mean, there’s parts of that that seem too good to be true! And, thankfully, it wasn’t.”

With a plan in place, DeWitt got to work on the Computer User Support Specialist program and graduated in February. Although the coronavirus outbreak delayed his certification exam, he eventually took it and passed, gaining ITIL, CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+, and CompTIA Security+ certifications.

While he had been applying to jobs before taking his exam, his results improved dramatically once he added the new certifications to his credentials.

“The second I said ‘I have my certification,’ my responses immediately went from maybe 25-30% to probably 90% in job applications,” he says. “I was immediately getting responses from companies that I wasn’t getting before.”

The interviews started piling up, so much so that it became a joke in the DeWitt household, how often Dad was in the office with the door closed, talking to another company about another job opportunity.

Initially aiming low because of his limited experience, DeWitt started going after positions of a slightly higher level. He ended up snagging one with Apex Systems, which hired him to be a Mobile Service Center Sr. Technician. After just one week of demonstrating the leadership and management skills he honed in the military, he was promoted to Mobile Service Center Manager.

“Here I am, after one week of work I’m talking with the company about what that (salary) increase looks like,” DeWitt says. “It was validating, because I was just so nervous about making that leap.”

Perhaps the best part: Through a contract with NORTHCOM, DeWitt and his Apex team are playing an active role in the coronavirus fight, helping with backend communications for military medical providers such as the USNS Comfort in New York and USNS Mercy in southern California.

“Those individuals are getting the devices we’re providing them, which allows them that cooperation and collaboration while still maintaining their social distancing,” DeWitt says. “Not only was I able to accept a position during these difficult times, I accepted a position where I’m supporting that effort directly.”

Being Let Go a ‘Blessing in Disguise’

Reggie LandersReggie Landers had long held an interest in IT – for most of his adult life, actually.

“I’ve been wanting to get into it,” he says. “But I had bills to pay, so I couldn’t just leave work and go to school. Because then I would be homeless.”

Landers, 39, had been employed in insurance before. He was unfortunately let go from his job, and he found it difficult to find another one of a similar stature.

Some positions he was unqualified for. Others would pay significantly less than he made before.

A father of one, Landers felt these options weren’t suitable for his circumstances. Amid decreasing responses from places he’d applied to, he vented about his growing frustrations to a friend.

“I kind of let him know the situation,” Landers says. “His girlfriend said, ‘Hey, why don’t you look into IT? They’re massively hiring. I went to this seminar and I got all this information.’ And I was like, ‘OK, cool, absolutely.’”

But the problem of affording IT training, in both money and time, still existed. Or so Landers thought, right up until he got in touch with LeaderQuest.

Because Landers was unemployed via a layoff, he qualified for a Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act (WIOA) grant through the state, explained Ken Hoerning, another Career Training Consultant in Colorado Springs.

“I sat down with Ken and, as they say, the rest is history,” Landers says.

Looking back, he thinks of losing his job as “a blessing in disguise.”

And so the training began, with Landers taking his first steps toward a new career. He proceeded through the Computer User Support Specialist program, which he called “very, very fast-paced.”

While the coronavirus pandemic has prevented him from taking his certification exams, it has not stopped him from finding a new job. Landers is now employed as a Level 2 Software Support Engineer Specialist with Tek Experts.

“It’s a right fit for someone that has no experience,” Landers says. “It’s a company that’s growing despite COVID-19, and I ended up getting hired in pretty much right away.”

How soon is right away? Landers applied to Tek Experts on Thursday, March 26. By Monday, April 20 – less than 30 days later – he was in the midst of his first day.

According to Landers, the company bills itself as a springboard to other opportunities. And he’s not the only LeaderQuest alum who’s caught on there.

In fact, from the very beginning, Hoerning pegged it as a possible landing spot for him.

“The LeaderQuest staff has been more than helpful and gracious during this process,” Landers says, “and has really been fighting for me as the student to try to make sure that everything is in place.”

Making the Jump from Teaching to IT

Jamie WestTeaching is an honorable, essential profession – but, as Jamie West learned firsthand, unfortunately its importance is often not reflected in the compensation.

A 37-year-old mother with two teenagers at home, West knew she could better support her family if she left her role as a paraeducator for preschoolers and elementary students.

“That is definitely not a lucrative job by any means,” says West, who was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in education. “Even as a teacher, I mean, starting salary for a teacher is about 36k if you’re really lucky.”

Together with her husband Bobby, who retired from the Navy in November, West began looking into IT. It was something the couple had considered in the past, as she has two brothers who work in cybersecurity.

They started studying on their own, but found it difficult to make progress without formalized training. It was Bobby who came across LeaderQuest.

To their delight, they learned that he qualified for funding through VET TEC, and she qualified for WIOA funding with the help of the Pikes Peak Workforce Center.

Going from 8 am to 5 pm, five days a week, West and her husband completed the five-week course over February and the first week of March. She took the rest of March to study for her Sec+ exam, which she passed on her first try. That’s when she called Shari Carroll, the Employment Development Manager at Colorado Springs, who helped with her job search immediately.

“That was on March 27th that she reached out to Valdez,” West says. “I had an interview at noon one day and was called back the next day telling me that I had received a job. So it was a very, very quick process.”

Seemingly overnight, West had an offer letter for a change management position in her possession. Although she can’t start yet due to COVID-19 precautions being taken at Peterson Air Force Base, where the role is located, she has a salary of $51,000 a year to look forward to.

“I’ll be making twice as much as I’ve ever made,” West says. “Just starting off, the very first job that I’ve ever gotten – I don’t have any other IT experience other than what I got from LeaderQuest.”

In describing the LQ process – from recruitment and classes to mentoring, exam prep and job placement – the word West kept coming back to was “phenomenal.”

“They just help out in any way, shape or form they can, from start to finish, to teach you this stuff, then (help you) study for the certs, then take the certs, then get a job,” West says. “Through the entire process, they’re just extremely helpful and encouraging.”

Start an IT Career with Zero Experience

Work HandshakeAt LeaderQuest, the most gratifying part of the job is seeing — and frequently helping — people get hired. That starts with training, with the most common journey being the Computer User Support Specialist program. There are no prerequisites. If you have basic computer literacy, you can take this course, get your certifications, and be on your way to a new career. All in an average of just three months.

And you won’t have to find work in this new field all on your own. As the above stories show, our career services team is an energetic, well-connected bunch. From helping you craft a top-notch resume and cover letter to directly reaching out to companies on your behalf, these people are dedicated to your employment. It’s their job to get you a job — and trust us, they’re excellent at their job.

When you factor in all the funding options available — especially for veterans — LeaderQuest becomes the obvious choice for anyone looking to enter IT. If that’s you, fill out the form below so we can start a conversation about your specific career goals and how LeaderQuest can help you reach them.