It’s so nice to be able to wake up in the morning and not to have that feeling ‘Ah — I’ve got to get up and go to work’,” Brant Backes said. “I enjoy what I do, so I don’t really look at it as work. That’s what my dad always said — if you enjoy what you do for a living, you’ll never work a day in your life. I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do stuff I love to do.”

After 10 years in manufacturing, Backes found himself out of work for almost two years when his company went out of business. He’d taken some computer classes and had an interest in a technology career. “One of the things I found is that everyplace I interviewed, they were looking for six months of experience. Unfortunately, that kind of hampered my ability to get a job with computers.”

A member of the National Guard, Backes “was looking at going active-duty army just to have an income coming in.” Through a friend of his sister, Backes heard about a program called the IT-Ready Apprentice Program, developed by the Creating IT Futures Foundation. He was admitted to the pilot program in the Twin Cities in 2012. Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis (JFCS) has received additional funding to support and grow the program.

The apprenticeship began with eight weeks of unpaid training. “The books and training are free of charge. You just have to show up on time everyday, pay for your own lunch and find your own way there, ” Backes said. During the training, “they had us take the computer completely apart, strip it down to bare bones, reassemble it and make sure it functions appropriately. We got all kinds of information on PCs, printers, the printing process.” In addition the training covered soft skills, like communication and interviewing. “That’s what really struck home to me,” Backes said. “I’m in a role that’s all about customer support.”

At the end of the training, participants got a free voucher to take their certification test. For those who passed, the program arranged employer interviews for a paid six-month internship. Backes did his internship at HealthPartners and was hired a month before the internship ended.

“My whole experience with the Creating IT Futures Foundation was wonderful.,” he said. “I can’t say enough about them. They still stay in contact, ask how I’m doing. HealthPartners has grabbed an intern from every class so far.”

What does your current job involve?

My normal job duties include imaging computers, replacing them, setting up software, troubleshooting problems, setting up printers and troubleshooting them. It’s pretty much the hands-on of the computers.

Aren’t most IT support jobs being sent offshore?

Technology is everywhere. It’s not slowing down. They can’t outsource enough to keep up with the pace. Companies are saying we want to keep business secure, keep Americans employed. There’s a lot of people willing to pay extra to have someone from America on the other end of the phone.

Who would benefit from the IT-Ready Apprenticeship?

Anyone who’s looking to start a career in computers, this would be perfect for them. All I wanted was a foot in the door. If the company where you intern doesn’t hire you on full-time, at least you have the experience. Six months of experience — that’s what was preventing me from getting a job. □