IT-Ready Program alumnus Brad Clemensen recently completed the trifecta of online CompTIA certifications made available to program graduates: Network+, Security+ and Server+. To do anything but, Clemensen said, would have been wrong.
It just felt foolish to pass up such a great opportunity, he said.
Clemensen — who graduated from the Minneapolis/St. Paul program in the spring of 2012 — has worked at Medica, a not-for-profit health insurance company, since completing the program. Now employed as a full-time contractor, he works in Medica’s data services center, handling software issues and maintaining web-based services.
All of the CompTIA certifications feed into what I’m doing here in the data center,” he said. “We deal with servers, we deal with security and we deal with networks. So every day, I feel like I’m using what I learned.
With multiple CompTIA certifications and nearly two years of full-time practical IT experience in hand, Clemensen said his career prospects represent a complete turnaround from where they were in 2012.
I can’t even quantify how much better my career prospects are now,” he said. “If I hadn’t done this, I honestly don’t know what I would be doing.
Unlike many people who enter the IT-Ready Program with little to no technical experience, Clemensen had completed a for-profit IT professional training program in 2003 and gotten a job with a company providing IT support. The company, very small in size, didn’t really need full-time tech support, so Clemensen’s responsibilities began to change. In addition to providing IT support, he started handling the company’s human-resources and inventory functions.
Then in 2009, after the economic crashed, the company laid Clemensen off. And that’s when he learned that his previous IT training and experience weren’t enough to land a new job in the field.
Because I wasn’t directly working in IT full time when I got laid off, I didn’t have a strong enough skill set technically to jump back into the game,” he said. “I just wasn’t getting any leads.
Eventually, Clemensen’s unemployment benefits ran out and he took a job delivering pizzas to keep cash coming in. After all, he was still paying off the loan he borrowed to attend the for-profit IT professional training program.
I really wanted to get my CompTIA certifications up-to-date and I was having a hard time, going to unemployment, then underemployment, and having student loans to pay,” he said. “I really didn’t have the resources to go back to school or get formal education.
In the course of examining what CompTIA certifications he might pursue, Clemensen learned that the A+ certification he thought he earned through his IT training program wasn’t A+ certification, after all. He had completed only part of the certification process.
He also had Network+ certification, but because his certificate was more than 10 years old and he hadn’t completed additional continuing education credits for it, prospective employers didn’t really look at it. To say these revelations were discouraging is an understatement, Clemensen said.
It turns out I never got A+ certification, but I didn’t realize it until after I was looking for jobs,” he said. “I ended up misrepresenting myself in a few situations, and I felt badly about that. And here I was, paying off student loans and looking at entry-level IT jobs — if I was lucky.
That’s about when Clemensen stumbled across an ad for the IT-Ready Program on Craigslist.
I applied, but I was actually quite leery of the whole thing,” he said. “I kept asking myself, ‘Why are they doing this for free?’ I kept waiting for them to come back and say, ‘We need all your personal information’ or ‘We need an application fee’ or some other catch. It just sounded too good to be true.
Once he enrolled in the IT-Ready Program, however, Clemensen let his guard down and dove headfirst into learning.
I definitely had an advantage because I had worked in IT before, and I could see that for some of my classmates that completely new information was overwhelming for them,” he said. “I tried to help my classmates whenever I could. It allowed me to think more about the things we were learning, plus I felt that I had been given this tremendous opportunity, and I needed to give something back.
Armed with A+ certification — this time for real — Clemensen took an apprenticeship with Medica and began pursuing the additional certifications offered to IT-Ready Program graduates in earnest.
Kathy Brennan, manager of the IT-Ready Program in the Twin Cities, said all graduates who complete A+ certification qualify for additional IT training at no personal expense. The program provides free study materials and exam vouchers for any CompTIA certifications that alumni pursue within a year after graduation. CompTIA Network+, Security+, and Server+ are the most popular certifications, she said, adding that those certifications alone represent a $3,000 value.
Clemensen said he would urge all his IT-Ready Program alumni peers to pursue additional certifications.
People should at least try,” he said. “I can understand why people have difficulty doing it because you’re starting a new job, you’re learning new things at work, you have family and other obligations. So it can feel overwhelming. But at least give it a try.
At Medica, Clemensen works on an IT team charged with maintaining onsite and offsite data centers. His responsibilities include deploying and maintaining hardware and software systems that provide infrastructure for Medica’s member information and claims processing efforts.
Serving about 1.5 million members and headquartered in Minneapolis, Medica is a not-for-profit health insurance company active in the upper Midwest. Medica’s vision is to become the community’s health plan of choice, trusted for its integrity, respected for its service and admired for its commitment to innovation and efficiency.
On any given day, I may be helping an internal customer with an issue on a server, or I may be in the data center running cables and racking and un-racking equipment,” he said.
Clemenson said the IT-Ready Program — with its training, apprenticeship and free certification programs — has paved the way to an entirely new future.
The program changed my life, as I knew it would from the very beginning,” he said. “I knew it was an opportunity I just couldn’t squander.”