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Tapping into an Alternative Workforce for IT Positions

Goodwill LogoYou’ve heard it before. There’s a great pool of people ready and willing to work in the information technology field with a variety of skillsets and experiences. At some point in their lives, these applicants usually have faced challenges that have prevented them from being employed. With a little extra help and an open door for an internship or hire, they can fit in with some of your most basic requirements or more highly skilled needs. They also can fit well into a culture of high expectations and results.

When many of us think of individuals with barriers to employment, we forget these can be individuals who have had a variety of technical positions in the past but may have had unfortunate turns in life, requiring a restart and refocus. They are just looking for an opportunity to jump back in.

Our Goodwill NCW information technology team has been offering IT internships and employment to people with barriers to employment through the guidance of our Vocational Support Services program and the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation for more than 15 years. Their skills and abilities have ranged from very basic to highly developed. Here are two examples of the value of providing internships and/or hiring people with barriers to employment.

Story #1. Thirty-five years ago, Larry was living a typical life — married with children and wrapping up his master’s degree. As life would have it, however, he unexpectedly became involved in highly stressful situations and showed signs of extreme anxiety and depression. Everything became overwhelming, and it was difficult for him to do routine, day-to-day activities. Eventually, his marriage fell apart and he lost his job in the medical technology field. Larry was fortunate to have family encouraging him to get the right help, including enrolling in the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. With their guidance, along with the Vocational Services Support program, he returned to school to start a new career in computer science and began an internship with Goodwill’s information technology team.

In 2003, Larry began a six-week internship to work on basic technology support for team members. After six weeks, we knew he was an asset beyond the basics, so we hired him part time, then offered him a full-time position in 2004. Over the years, Larry has grown to be an amazing team member. He is our main traveler to other retail locations and has become our retail technology expert. He knows all there is to know about point of sale technology, such as printers, y-cables, injection keys, security screws, OPOS drivers, etc. He also has a business sense to save money. Numerous times he has fixed electronic printers (a carry-over from his medical technology experience) with a $5 part from Kitz & Pfeil, saving thousands of dollars in printer repairs! We’re so happy Larry became a part of the team. We don’t know where we would be without him.

Story #2. Bradley had more than 30 years of IT experience as a programmer/analyst before he came to Goodwill. Due to unfortunate circumstances, Bradley left the IT workforce and hadn’t been employed in the field for several years. Finding it difficult to reenter the field after his absence, he enrolled in the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and began an internship at Goodwill NCW in 2017. Bradley was overwhelmed at first but grew to enjoy each day. He looked forward to coding and solving problems.

He was given the task to make a very sophisticated and complex set of spreadsheets to collect data and calculate accurate totals for business reports. He impressed us with his ability to do some older coding we couldn’t find resources for. He also fit well with our culture and the team. It was a successful project for Bradley, and it gave him some confidence as he searched for other IT positions after the internship was completed.

Recently, we needed revisions to the spreadsheets to expand the data collection across more teams and rehired Bradley to help accomplish the work. It didn’t take him long to get back into it, and he became very confident in his abilities. He collaborated with several leaders at Goodwill in designing, creating, testing and documenting his work. The final product was successful and went live within the expected timeframe.

Both work experiences with Goodwill helped jump-start Bradley’s ambition to learn more and to update his coding skills. He is now enrolled in the local technical college to prepare for his new future in technology.

Tips for success in hiring people with barriers to employment

As you can see, hiring individuals with barriers to employment as interns or employees can be very rewarding for everyone. Not all internships and hires will work out, but here are some tips I have found that can help make them successful:

  • Spend some time preplanning the internship, or new hire, with week-by-week assignments
  • Round out the first several weeks with a recap to capture highlights and successes
  • Assess abilities early and offer experiences centered around their strengths
  • Assign a mentor already on the team as a guide to help answer questions and navigate through the high volume of information they will receive
  • Rotate mentorship opportunities to others as a growth opportunity
  • Treat the intern the same as all new hires with expectations in participation, performance, training and culture
  • Celebrate the internship or new hire with the entire team

How can you get started?

Contact Goodwill’s Vocational Support Services program for candidates in the information technology field. Then, open your door!