Deynn “Dee” Hampton, an IT contractor on assignment at 3M Co., is proof that an opportunity, hard work and a good attitude can be life-changing.

In the fall of 2016, Hampton was among the first graduates of the “Barriers to Entry” program of her employer, IT consulting and placement firm York Solutions. Barriers was designed to recruit and train nontraditional tech workers from the ranks of the underemployed, veterans and stay-at-home moms.

The idea was to create a new pool of trainable workers who had aptitude but who lacked traditional credentials, such as a degree in computer science.

The Barriers to Entry program and a number of other innovative train-and-place initiatives launched collaboratively in recent years by kindred nonprofits, employers and the state university system. They were created under the Minnesota “career pathways” umbrella and aimed at getting more people of color, women, veterans and workforce returnees into good jobs as IT consultants, Metro Transit drivers and mechanics, heath care workers and bank tellers.

Our growing, worker-hungry economy needs everybody on deck.

From job to career

Moreover, Twin Cities employment statistics tracked by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, show that minority employment since the Great Recession of 2008-2009 in fast-growing fields of technology, health care and financial services, is growing at up to twice the rate of overall growth in some related job categories. That’s important as the state’s population diversifies.

Hampton and the York program are the embodiment of these positive trends. And the Twin Cities economy needs more folks working at their highest level, and making good wages, to grow at capacity.

For Hampton, 48, a single mom who has labored for menial wages since high school, the opportunity has been transformational.

“It hasn’t been easy but it has been great,” Hampton said last week. “I used to work hard [in office-administrative jobs that paid up to $15 an hour] just to live. “Now I feel like I have a career.

“I have worked harder than I ever have in my life. I’m a lifelong learner. And I’m grateful.”

Hampton was paid $15 an hour to attend and pass three weeks of “Barriers” training, including the “scrum master certification” that got her into the corporate IT area of 3M at a beginning wage of $15 an hour.

Since I interviewed Hampton in February 2017, her responsibilities and skills have grown.

Moreover, her pay has doubled, to $30-plus an hour, or $62,000-plus annually, with potential to go much higher.

York, Hampton’s employer, has given her steady increases as her performance and responsibilities increased at 3M.

Silvia Hinton, a York executive, said Hampton is a gracious star in a fledgling program designed to produce about 50 graduates a year.

“I think the biggest thing we’re proving is that there are a lot of talented people who can prove themselves and who have been overlooked by ‘the traditional system’ and who can get into a career path that will pay $50,000 to $70,000 or more,” said Hinton, a veteran of the IT world. “It’s not a cakewalk. You have to have the aptitude and be willing to learn and work hard. I look for people with that aptitude. Strong communication skills. Organized. The drive to get in and figure it out.”

This is not charity by York, which gets paid by employers such as 3M, Xcel Energy, RBC, Prime Therapeutic, Cargill, Data Recognition Corp., and DecoPac in Anoka for fledgling IT workers and project managers, some of whom they hire.

CEO Richard Walker of York, which has more than 450 employees and contractors, and Chairman Bill Carr launched the Barriers to Entry program to extend opportunity to folks such as Hampton.

Carr, 66, is a Chicago native who served a tour in Vietnam after high school. Then he needed a job. He eventually started York in Chicago. He lives here now and turned the Twin Cities into the company’s operational and employment hub in 2000.

Carr, the veteran, and Walker, an immigrant who started out as a bricklayer in a small village in England, by 2016 decided they wanted to expand their training program to include more veterans and underemployed folks interested in IT careers.

“To me there’s nothing more important, after my family, than how many lives can I positively impact and help them reach their professional goals,” Walker told me last year.

Classroom, real world

Hinton leads the Barriers program and brings in guest speakers from the IT community, many of whom also end up mentoring the Barriers graduates.

The training includes three weeks of classroom work, as well as hands-on learning of foundational project management skills for waterfall and agile systems, soft skills such as interpersonal communications; organizational training, resume writing, interview training, introduction to SQL, and SharePoint IT-administration skills. Once participants graduate from paid training, they are placed in client internships and assignments. They build on their knowledge and gain real-world experience. Assignments include roles like project coordinator, scrum master, business analyst and quality assurance coordinator.

Hinton said York is successfully placing and retaining about 80 percent of graduates with employer-clients.

Increasingly, educators and employers are finding common ground through nontraditional forms of education, such as apprenticeships. They increasingly are solutions for employers and career paths for talented but underemployed folks who can continue their education, including advanced certification, as well as two- or four-year degrees, as they get traction on the job.


Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at