Because of some timely advice from the custodian at her high school, Mandolin Canaday spent the summer learning about computers and acquiring the skills she needed to begin her career.
Canaday had spent previous summers helping clean her school, F. L. Schlagle High School, Kansas City, Kan. But when the money just wasn’t there to pay her for the summer of 2012, the custodian had another idea. A better idea.
“He told me about this program where you learn about computers, and that sounded really interesting to me,” she said.
Canaday was a part of a computer technician skills camp sponsored by Workforce Partnership. Forty-eight participants were trained at three onsite locations: Kansas City Kansas Community College, KCKCC’s Leavenworth Center and JCCC.
At all three sites, participants were taught not only computer hardware and software skills but also “soft skills” like business communication, problem solving and leadership.
David Wellmaker, curriculum developer, has taught at the camp since its inception in 2010. He said he enjoys seeing the transformation in students who finish the month-long program.
“There’s a light that we see in their eyes,” Wellmaker said. “They solve problems better. They think better. And when I see them get jobs that they didn't think they could get…I enjoy that. It just gives them a leg up on life.”
To emulate the workplace as closely as possible, participants address instructors and other students by the courtesy title “Mr.” or “Ms.” followed by a last name. First-name familiarity can wait until after they've gotten the job.
“You’d be surprised how the whole tone of the classroom changes when you establish those rules of respect,” Wellmaker said. He also enforces a business-casual dress code and helps students find clothes that meet that standard.
“There are no excuses here,” he said. “If you don't have a tie or a nice shirt, we'll get you one.”
Canaday said she'd love to be an accountant some day. She plans on attending DeVry University to finish her bachelor’s degree, and then continue on to get her master’s.
“I love math. I have always loved math. Math is just a subject that I get,” she said. “Even if a problem has me stuck, I'll just keep working at it until I get the answer. That’s what I love about it.”
Canaday didn't have the same affection for computers. She and her two brothers and two sisters at home shared a laptop, but she didn't know all that much about it.
“Everything is technology based now,” she said. “It was really difficult for me and computers before this class, but now I understand so much more.”
The students learned how to build a microcomputer and then diagnose and troubleshoot for any hardware problems. Completed computers are donated to area non-profit organizations. Of the 48 computers, 28 were donated to service-providing organizations in Wyandotte County and 14 were awarded in Johnson County. Six computers will soon find homes at organizations in Leavenworth County.
Other lessons revolve around team-building skills and leadership strategies.
In one lesson, students started their own company and were assigned roles to play. Canaday played the chief financial officer, naturally.
“All the people skills we learned, and the communication skills, they’ll really stick with me,” she said, “because you really need those for everyday life. Because learning to talk to people is a lifelong skill.”