Photo courtesy of Sue Wallace
Women can do anything — but not everything. As the largest online career community for women, we at Fairygodboss realize that balance is a myth, and that picking what to prioritize when everything feels important on a day-to-day basis isn't always easy. In the #MakingTime series, women share with us how, for one day, they chose to spend their most precious resource: time.
Who: Sue Wallace
What: Executive Director of National Workforce Solutions for Creating IT Futures; wife and mother to three sons
Where: New Hope, a suburb of Minneapolis, Minn.
I turn off my alarm and slowly roll out of bed. I am not a “hit the ground running” type of person. After a cup of coffee, I check and respond to work email, and then dress and drive to the gym. I try to work out most mornings; once a week, I work out with my personal trainer.
After my workout, I return home, where more often than not, I find that my firefighter husband has thoughtfully prepared breakfast for me. I eat, shower and get ready for work. Driving into the office takes about 30 minutes.
I get to work, stash my lunch in the break room fridge, settle in at my desk, and read and respond to work emails.
A new IT-Ready class is starting in Edina, so I pop in long enough to say hello, introduce myself, and share a bit about how IT-Ready has literally changed lives. Obviously I hope that IT-Ready can help improve the lives of the students in this particular classroom — and I hope they'll remember us after they’ve launched their tech careers. Giving back takes lots of forms, and I hope that one day they can serve as mentors or even employers, hiring our latest IT-Ready graduates. The students’ excitement is palpable and it puts a smile on my face as I head back to my office.
I have a conference call with representatives from our national partner, Wounded Warrior Project, which is helping get IT-Ready to veterans and their spouses.
Because there’s an acute shortage of qualified workers, the IT industry has more than a half-million jobs open in America. Thousands of these jobs are in help-desk technician or software testing roles, earning double the national wage. IT is a great field for veterans transitioning into civilian life, and IT-Ready can prepare them for tech roles in just eight weeks with full-time training.
Like women and people of color, veterans are under-represented within the IT industry, and we want to change that. Thanks to a grant that supports our work with Wounded Warrior Project, we now offer IT-Ready online, giving preference to veterans, transitioning military, and their spouses. Wounded Warrior Project is providing training space to offer IT-Ready classes for veterans, so we discuss some of the outfitting logistics. We also discuss ways Wounded Warrior Project can raise awareness of IT-Ready and how our program can help veterans launch an upwardly mobile and financially sustaining career in the civilian workforce.
I meet one-on-one with one of my employees, something I do weekly with all three of my direct reports. We discuss which IT-Ready classes are in which stage; where things stand in terms of outreach and recruiting; the status of assessments for students for incoming classes; and generally how people are doing. Are there students who are nervous or need encouragement?
Are there students who are financially struggling? While IT-Ready is offered free to students, there is no stipend associated with it, and eight weeks can be a long time for someone to go without income. So I want to be kept apprised of that. If somebody says, “Hey, I’m struggling,” we can help connect them with community resources so they don’t have to drop out.
And where do things stand in terms of placement after graduation? It’s not enough for IT-Ready to equip students with entry-level tech skills; we want these folks to become employed full time, and we do whatever we can to help make that happen.
As a supervisor, I try to offer encouragement and support to my team, helping them overcome challenges and equipping them to make good choices that benefit our organization.
I have a video conference with another of my direct reports, our centralized team lead. Until recently, each individual IT-Ready location was responsible for vetting candidates — making sure applicants had a high-school diploma or GED; interviewing them by phone to gauge motivation and interest; ensuring they completed an online workplace personality assessment; testing them for basic foundational math and reading skills; and, finally, conducting an in-person interview.
Having each site perform this work was problematic for a couple of reasons — one, it took a tremendous amount of time on the part of our program managers, which is time we’d rather have them devote to nurturing relationships with employers and workforce development resources within their communities. IT-Ready’s continued success depends upon our graduates securing full-time employment in the tech industry, so we need to continually build our community presence and classroom-to-workplace pipeline. And two, it introduced variability where we are trying to keep the playing field as fair and balanced as possible.
The centralized team also handles a lot of day-to-day logistics for us — for example, they have the codes for the e-books we use, and they document student attendance. Our meeting is detailed — we discuss how the team is collecting and processing data, and how we’re using and sharing that information within our organization. We’re in the midst of a lot of change right now. Creating a more centralized structure has been part of the game plan to better manage the growth.
I break for lunch, eating the meal I brought from home. I’m really bad about eating at my desk, and spending that time reading and responding to emails and listening to voice messages.
I meet with another direct report who is overseeing the logistics of our expansion into Chicago and Phoenix. In Chicago, we’re utilizing space at a college campus, while in Phoenix, we’re using space at a workforce development community resource. So there are detailed logistics involved — making sure that each workstation is equipped with a PC and what have you. During our discussion, we realized Phoenix needed more surge protectors. It’s a relatively minor thing, but something that could have caused serious repercussions had we overlooked it. And in Portland, we are switching from laptops to desktops for our new space, but we aren’t actually physically located in that space just yet. However, we need the laptops in Minneapolis for a pilot class we will be running simultaneously with the regular IT-Ready class. So we’ve shipped desktops to our current location, and I will travel out there next week to help set them up. During our meeting, we realize that the current space isn’t wired for Internet connectivity, as laptops have Wi-Fi capability that the desktops do not. So my employee needs to determine if we can add a Wi-Fi access card to the desktops. There are lots of moving pieces when we expand into new cities, and there will always be snags, but I try to model for my team how we always need to be moving forward and problem solving.
I have a conference call with a property broker I have been working with in Portland. Since our start there, we have been leasing space in a co-working location, but we’re looking now to build our own site. We have found a property and are working with the landlord to build out the site to meet our needs and sign a lease. I am heavily involved in making sure we get that site outfitted properly with the hope that we will be up-and-running for a summer class in a brand-new space we can call our own.
I have an introductory meeting with representatives from a Fortune 50 tech company. They are really interested in the mission of the work we’re doing, so we discuss all of the ways companies like theirs can lend support — mentoring, speaking to students, conducting mock interviews, hiring or offering financial support.
I learn that like every other employer in the tech sector, this company has a dearth of qualified applicants for job vacancies. Companies literally are poaching tech employees from each other to fill needed spots. The industry needs a bigger pool of job candidates, and IT-Ready is doing just that — creating more job candidates.
I discover that the company has such great need for entry-level tech workers for its data centers that it has been going into retail stores and recruiting employees working there to undergo tech training. So there definitely is potential for a symbiotic relationship and we need to keep our conversation going.
I return a call to an academician in Texas who is conducting research and thinks there might be an opportunity for collaborating with Creating IT Futures or CompTIA. My job involves vetting opportunities like this and weighing in — what resources are available, what can we share, whom do we need to involve, what do we have that might be a good fit for them. It turns out that this particular opportunity probably isn’t a fit for us, but I need to make three other internal phone calls to share what I’ve learned.
Last week, I had a similar networking coffee with someone and it could be a relationship good for us longer term but right now isn’t the right time to move forward. I would say that’s one of the biggest challenges our organization faces because we’ve grown so much and so quickly — communication. Making sure that everyone remains in the loop in the right order.
I’m speaking at a workforce development conference in San Antonio in May about how we’re going to tap into the next generation to help resolve our IT workforce issues, and how that will require a multiple-angle approach. Although the conference is two months away, I already am being asked for slides and bio, so I spend time crafting my remarks and developing PowerPoint slides. I do really love my job. I feel very fortunate to help people access training that taps a passion and gives them a credential they need to start along a successful career path. We just plant the seeds and watch them grow. I try to make sure some of my joy and excitement for my work comes through my remarks.
I try to leave the office by 5 p.m. although I don’t always succeed. My commute home takes about half an hour, and I spend that time listening to music as a way of decompressing and transitioning from work to home. My husband and I have twin boys, who are 20, and a younger son, who is 14.
I’m definitely a planner, so I know what we’re eating every night for dinner. If my husband gets home before me, he will start it. Dinner involves whoever is home to eat with my husband and me — our 20-year-old twins often have plans, but our 14-year-old son almost always eats with us. He’s involved with Boy Scouts and he takes cello lessons, so I drive him to those activities. I’m also actively involved with Women of Today, a civic organization, so I will attend those meetings or events.
I respond to work emails well into the evening. I know I should have more work-life balance but between meetings and calls during my workday, I sometimes can’t answer work emails until that night.
There always is laundry, and there always are dishes, but we have been pretty firm about teaching our sons how to do their own laundry and how to clean up after themselves. Sometimes they need a little prompting, but in our house, everything is a team effort. I pretty much do most of the cooking, but when it comes to vacuuming, dishes, laundry, I put my foot down a long time and told our sons they needed to help carry the load. And they do.
Things start winding down in our house, and I try to be in bed, reading, by 9:15 p.m.
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