By James A. Mitchell
Tom Gregory heard rave reviews about ExperienceIT before he signed up in 2014. Was it possible that the Information Technology course offered everything he was looking for?
“I thought it was too good to be true,” Gregory said. He was 27 at the time, with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and few prospects. He’d originally studied computer engineering, which was what he’d wanted to pursue.
“I was trying to figure out how to get back into IT,” Gregory said. “I found out that Experience IT was legit, and that ended up being my starting point.”
Originally launched as “IT in the D” in 2012 by downtown-based tech companies, “ExperienceIT Detroit” was designed to find and develop the talent needed to bridge an ever-widening skills-positions gap. The program was rebranded in 2014 as a partnership that offered hands-on training from some of the region’s top companies.
Member partners include Quicken Loans, GalaxE.Solutions, Marketing Solutions, Fathead, Titlesource, DTE Energy and Blue Cross of Michigan.
Not long after completing the hands-on, eight-week program, Gregory was offered a software engineer position at GalaxE Solutions, and found not only a viable career opportunity but a job that he felt qualified to perform.
“Experience IT provided the basic tools needed to get started,” Gregory said. “There was a lot of hands-on work that I hadn’t gotten in college.”
Nearly 200 students have taken the course and more than 80 percent found employment not long after. Partner company officials said the success ratio wasn’t too surprising.
“We make sure the curriculum matches what we need,” said Linglong He, chief information officer for founding partner Quicken Loans. What makes the program a near sure thing is that lessons are drawn from corporate projects rather than generic textbooks.
“We tried to fill the class work with real job experience,” said He, who chairs the ExperienceIT strategy team. “Team members from each company volunteered to put projects together for students to challenge tech skills.
Of equal importance is that ExperienceIT provides exercises which require the “soft skills” of teamwork, problem solving and the hard-to-define abilities needed in the workplace.
“It’s not just about the technology, which changes all the time,” said Ryan Hoyle, VP of business development and talent acquisition at GalaxE.Solutions. “We wanted people who had the soft skills. If you can do certain things you can bring value to those organizations.”
Hoyle said that ExperienceIT doesn’t so much replace traditional education as it embraces workers and students with some tech background and steer them in the right direction.
“We’re doing more work here in the US as opposed to sending the talent overseas,” Hoyle said. “To accomplish that we need more access to talent and to a variety of skill sets and levels.”
The success rate of ExperienceIT didn’t surprise Hoyle, based on the “sobering number of unfilled positions” and the spirit of cooperation among its founders.
“These companies that are traditionally competing – if not poaching – came together to collaborate,” Hoyle said. “In a very short time we were able to make our graduates billable resources.”
Jesse Cunningham, 40, had been working as a chef when he took the course in 2014. He’d studied computer networking before, but said the program provided basic lessons that were critical to real-world employment. When hired as a software engineer for Quicken Loans in April 2015 after serving internships, Cunningham said the soft skills he’d learned proved most valuable.
“It’s about knowing how to present technical language to people,” Cunningham said. “It’s hard to get that with tech people sometimes.”