Fulfilling Dreams Through Workforce Development

Dakota’s prospects were limited after high school and his outlook on his future was grim. In the years following his high school career, he worked a series of dead-end jobs and any hope for a fulfilling career seemed to be lost. Fortunately, United Way of Greater St. Louis (UWGSL) partners with local nonprofit agencies that share our commitment to making sure our neighbors have access to resources needed to attain gainful employment and financial stability, giving people like Dakota hope to pursue their dreams. For him, the rise of his career success came in the most ironic way he could have imagined.

Unmasking potential

Due to Dakota’s anxiety and the need for him and his family to take care of his brother who had autism, his school attendance was sporadic which subsequently led to subpar grades. He dreamed of having a fulfilling career someday, but from the moment he entered high school, that dream seemed to be a longshot.

With bad grades and very few friends, his confidence was shattered, and he had no idea what he would do after high school. His first job after high school was as a janitor at Mastercard’s O’Fallon office. Even though this wasn’t his ideal job, he learned the importance of consistently showing up to work every day, on time, hard work and being serious and intentional about making sure he did his part, values that eluded him in high school.

“This was the first job I had ever had and the job kind of gave me the structure that I needed, I don’t think I missed a single day of work while I was working there,” said Dakota.

After working for Mastercard for a while, he went on to work a series of jobs that developed his maturity and work ethic, but none of them really piqued his interest. As his maturity and self-confidence began to grow, so did his desire to take his life and career in a different direction.

He enrolled into a local community college and found out about UWGSL partner, NPower, from a professor. He was accepted into their online technical training program and began learning some of the basics about the skills needed to become an IT professional.

After he completed 20 weeks of their instructor-led virtual training, he was presented with an opportunity for an internship at Accenture. During his internship he was paired with a mentor who helped him learn more about how to manage deadlines, and further his skills in computer programming and project management. He spent every day shadowing him and absorbing as much knowledge as he could about how to perfect his craft, and his hard work paid off.

When his summer internship was over, he was offered an apprenticeship at the same company where he was once a janitor – Mastercard.

“It felt like a dream – from cleaning those floors to now troubleshooting tech issues on them,” said Dakota. “It was the kind of opportunity that I imagined for myself when I worked maintenance there – to one day be sitting at one of those desks.”

The adjustment to this starkly new role at Mastercard was challenging for him at first. The IT issues they managed were much more complex and could be difficult to understand. However, his team was very supportive of his acclimation process. They were busy managing thousands of computers, but still made time to answer all of his questions and teach him everything about the front lines of working in IT at Mastercard.

Dakota’s teammates were even supportive of him outside the office. During his apprenticeship, an unfortunate car accident made his car undrivable. His manager, Mark, was kind enough to go out of his way to drive him to and from work every day.

Their value of his work and personal wellbeing was clear, and six months into his apprenticeship, Mastercard offered him a full-time position as an Enterprise Operations Engineer.

Dakota had achieved what he had longed for, but never thought he could actually do. NPower gave him the tools to hone his skills and work ethic to manifest what is now a thriving IT career that he loves. To this day, Dakota is astonished by how far he has come.

“This journey, from a high school student filled with self-doubt to an IT professional has been amazing,” said Dakota. “I never thought I would get this far; it feels like a dream that I haven’t woken from yet. I’m thankful to everybody who helped me get here.”

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Rodney Humphries
Rodney Humphries