Workers gather to learn new IT skills

Detroit Companies Work Together to Re-Skill Community for IT Jobs

You might expect the top companies in Detroit to compete for skilled IT workers; or to pull new hires from a national pool.  

But a partnership that’s eight years strong does the opposite. Nine Detroit companies, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, work collaboratively to train community members in metro Detroit for entry-level IT positions.  

The program is called ExperienceIT. It’s been recognized locally and nationally for its success in developing local talent. Participating companies include Blue Cross, Accenture, Amrock, OneMagnify, Dynatrace, Rocket Companies, Rocket Mortgage, Rocket Homes and GalaxE.Solutions.  

“This program is helping the community. We’re taking folks and reskilling them with knowledge that’s valuable and marketable,” said Mike Benoit, director of Salesforce CRM and Integration Services at Blue Cross. “We’re giving them the opportunity to not only learn the skill, but to network with tech leaders and network across the companies that are involved.”  

Training for real-world experience

More than 300 students have graduated from the program since 2012, providing a pipeline for local talent to enter the IT workforce and bridge the skills gap.  

Vaneitta Goines

Vaneitta Goines

One of those students is Vaneitta Goines, who graduated from ExperienceIT and was hired into Blue Cross in 2015. Now, she’s a Systems Analyst II and serves as a liaison between Blue Care Network and the IT team on new projects. Goines used ExperienceIT to reskill after her first career working with nonprofits and universities, where much of her knowledge was self-taught.  

“The formal project structure and learning structure was really helpful for me,” said Goines of ExperienceIT. “If you’re trying to learn a new dance or play a new sport, having someone physically in front of you makes a difference. Having someone in front of you showing you every single step – that’s what helped the most about the program.”   

The support and camaraderie with the other students helped carry her through the program, as well as the direct feedback from the instructors.  

“Being new to the career of IT, and having such a high learning curve, having people who were direct and blunt about what needed to be done and gave you additional resources for those that wanted to push forward was so valuable,” Goines said.  

A group of workers pose for a photo

Graduates from the 2019 ExperienceIT program.

Interested students apply to be in the ExperienceIT program, which typically has 35 students in each class. The latest round drew 172 interested applicants, about 20% of which are Detroit residents. No formal IT training is required to apply. 

Here’s how the program works:  

  • The self-instructed program lasts 12 weeks.  
  • Twice a week the group meets in person to collaborate with mentors from the participating companies.  
  • Students learn from real-world, project-based examples.    
  • At the end of the program, students are offered the opportunity to interview for open positions at the participating companies.  

More than 90% of graduates have gained employment with partner companies.  

At Blue Cross, Benoit said he engages departments beyond his own to match students to open positions across the company. Many students enter Blue Cross as System Analysts. 

Adapting to business needs

Each year Blue Cross and other participating companies choose the technology and skills that students will learn, which have included Java and .NET. 

This year’s program will focus on the Salesforce platform. Benoit said it’s been a challenge to find applicants who are proficient in Salesforce in Michigan.  

“The ExperienceIT program has brought companies together in a non-competitive way. We all face the same workforce challenges with hiring and retaining talent,” Benoit said. “This program harnesses our shared missions and goals as companies, including our commitment to building up and contributing to our communities.”  

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Photo credits: Courtesy of Kurt Manuel, One Magnify.

 

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