Jaquan Sloan worked in retail, home health care and building security for nearly a decade after high school.
Usually part-time and without benefits. Never more than $12 an hour.
Sloan, 28, who grew up in Harlem, the son of a security guard and transit worker, moved to the Twin Cities in 2011.
An aunt who employed him in her home health care agency closed the business and Sloan took a part-time security job in 2013. He was at a Minnesota state employment office on E. Lake Street when he saw a flier for a nine-month training program for computer support careers at the Takoda Institute of the American Indian OIC (AIOIC), the longtime south Minneapolis nonprofit training school.
"I liked computers," recalled Sloan, the expert with electronics and software growing up in his family's apartment.
Sloan enrolled, worked up to 40 hours weekly as a security guard to make rent and tuition, and graduated in late 2014.
Sloan landed a job soon after at Dell Compellent in Eden Prairie. He's already been promoted to an analyst job, working with data-storage customers.
The job pays $27 an hour, plus "great benefits," Sloan said. "[AIOIC] was the greatest life decision I've ever made. The students ranged from people with four-year degrees to some who didn't know anything but to turn on the computer."
Sloan, who now can afford an apartment without roommates, works three 12-hour shifts weekly at Dell, and plans to earn a degree in business.
"I have a savings account and a plan for my future," Sloan said.
Sloan is one success story in the effort to close a troubling opportunity gap between people of color and whites. He's also an emerging face of tomorrow's Minnesota tech workforce captured in subtle trends emerging in state jobs data.
For example, minorities accounted for about 9 percent of the 143,000 workers in the "professional, technical and scientific" job category according to 2015 statistics from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). Their ranks are growing fast.
Minority employment grew 20 percent to 13,084 jobs from 2014 to 2015. White employment grew 11.9 percent to 129,948. Black employment year-over-year grew by 51 percent to 3,624 jobs last year. Asian employment grew 5.9 percent to 7,206 jobs. People who claimed two or more races grew employment by 31 percent to 1,515 jobs.
In another category, computer systems design jobs in Minnesota, where jobs pay up to $100,000, black employment grew 26 percent to 1,147 jobs between 2013 and 2015. Hispanic employment grew 23 percent to 1,050. Total employment in the sector grew only 9 percent to 34,264 jobs.
The Minnesota economy is growing, the unemployment rate is below 4 percent, considered full employment, and the emerging workforce, which includes proportionately more minorities, is filling job openings, including those of thousands of retiring baby boomers each year.
"Employers are struggling to find qualified applicants," said Mitzi Hobot, who runs the Takoda Institute of Technology at AIOIC and who works with employers on internships, training and job placement. "Most minority candidates don't have the technical or professional work experience of four-year college graduation rates of Caucasian counterparts. We try to equalize that."
AIOIC, funded through government grants and training contracts, tuition and private donations, is a $4.3 million-revenue school with about 550 students. The curriculum ranges from adult basic education for those who need a high school diploma to computer-related training. Nearly 200 students are trained annually at Takoda Institute, which offers several certification programs.
AIOIC's typical student is a 43-year-old black or American Indian with a household income of $13,000. About 75 percent of graduates last year were placed in jobs with average salaries of about $34,000. The technology jobs secured by Takoda Institute pay more.
The Takoda Group was started several years ago within AIOIC to train IT students, attract employer attention and investment, and operate a fee-earning placement agency for students from area community colleges. Takoda also operates a small IT services business and creative agency that serves clients and also provides students with critical experience.
"Employers two or three years ago thought they had enough candidates from four-year colleges," Hobot recalled. "They can use us now. Some of them move up some of their existing workers and backfill with our trainees."
Takoda has a growing client list of 100 employers, large and small, including St. Jude Medical, Impact Group, Medtronic, U.S. Bank, the Animal Humane Society, Indian Health Board, IT Nation, Target, Toshiba and local governments.