Neal St. Anthony
See more of the story

Deynn “Dee” Hampton started her IT career a few months ago and she’s already a certified “scrum master,” working on software projects at 3M Co.

Just as important, Hampton, 47, a single mom who has worked since high school at jobs that paid less than $15 an hour, is now a $30,000-plus professional on a path to $50,000 within a few years as her skills grow.

“I’m fortunate to be at one of the most innovative companies in the world,” said Hampton. “My work ethic is strong and I’m taking advantage of what I’m learning, taking notes and volunteering for everything I can.

“I’m learning ‘agile program’ management and I’m an agile thinker, so I can go wherever I need to go. Eventually, I want to be a consultant, to work for myself and with companies and train scrum masters five to 10 years from now.”

Hampton is part of a new initiative of York Solutions, an IT consulting firm led by a couple of guys who understand the value of a second chance.

CEO Richard Walker of York, which has more than 450 employees and contractors, smiled as he talked last week about Hampton. He remembers her children attending graduation last fall after her several weeks of training.

“Dee now has the opportunity to make more than $50,000 and reach goals she once thought impossible,” Walker said. “That’s why we’re doing this. To me there’s nothing more important, after my family, than how many lives can I positively impact and help them reach their professional goals.”

Walker, 50, works for York founder and Chairman Bill Carr, 66, who grew up on the south side of Chicago and did a tour of duty in Vietnam a half-century ago. Carr started York Solutions 25 years ago in Chicago, and Walker has turned the Twin Cities into its operational and employment hub since he came aboard in 2000.

Carr, the veteran, and Walker, an immigrant who started out as a bricklayer in a small village in England, last year decided they wanted to expand their training program to include more veterans and underemployed folks who were interested in IT careers.

Moreover, in a near full employment economy, it’s only fair and smart for employers to get as many folks as possible working at their maximum potential. And the growing Twin Cities economy has thousands of openings for technical, support and related workers.

The York Solutions Barriers to Entry Program (B2E), which isn’t easy to get into, has trained 20 and expects to produce 50 to 60 IT rookies every year. York pays them $15 an hour and guarantees an entry-level job in IT project management at a client company.

“It’s a yearlong coaching and mentoring commitment and [York contractors] are welcome to take a position with the employer, our client partners,” Walker said. “It doesn’t fit everybody. But we’re excited with all the new folks such as Dee. This is working.”

Everybody gets a coach. And Hampton’s is the CIO of Jack Link’s, the meat company.

This is only the latest training program developed by for-profit and nonprofit employers targeting people not in traditional education programs, including thousands of working adults who want to upgrade skills and income.

Hampton said the bonus of working at a big company is support from her corporate team, new friends who work globally and a good starting position near her St. Paul home.

These initiatives also are helping the Twin Cities region diversify the growing ranks of workers in the professional, scientific and technical services job fields, according to recent U.S. census data.

For example, of the 125,905 professional-technical workers employed in the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan area in 2010, 8.7 percent were minorities. In 2016, 9.3 percent, or 14,428 of the professional-technical workers, were minorities.

Minority hiring grew 31 percent over the six-year period as white hiring grew 21 percent.

Demographic experts long have predicted that minorities and immigrants will be needed increasingly to replace white baby boomers, who have dominated technology fields, as they retire in a growing Twin Cities economy. The Barriers program is both a good and a smart thing to do for York Solutions. Its business is providing trainee-to-veteran IT workers to client companies.

“I have been working for many years,” Hampton said. “And York and 3M have opened my eyes to a new career.”

Walker is all for personal reinvention. His dad, a 45-year factory worker, counseled his bricklayer son that he should follow his dream.

Walker was volunteering with youths in his hometown 30 years ago. He earned a college degree to be a teacher. He immigrated to the United States after meeting the woman he would marry, with whom he now raises a family near St. Michael.

To support himself without a teaching license, Walker started his career as a trainee, placing IT professionals.

Things appear to be working out for Walker. And Hampton.

Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at nstanthony@startribune.com.