Most people probably wouldn’t imagine that farming and military service would lead to a successful career in information technology.
But for Kacy Reed, 30, time spent managing the day-to-day duties of an apple orchard and, later, following the strict protocols of the U.S. Marine Corps were all the preparation he needed to become a solutions architect for Dewpoint, a Lansing-based IT firm.
“I wasn’t really a computer guy growing up. … I just kind of fell into (IT),” he said. “But in this field, it all comes down to a couple things: having good hands-on technical skills and a tolerance for good, old-fashioned hard work.”
IT is one of the Professional Trades, a diverse range of high-skilled trade occupations and industries, that also include the fields of healthcare, advanced manufacturing, automotive and construction. And in Michigan right now, Professional Trades careers like Reed’s are a hot ticket – if employers can find enough workers to fill these positions.
‘There’s a need for these kinds of jobs’
For some people like Reed, the path for finding the right career isn’t always a straight one.
“No one ever talked to me about Professional Trades when I was growing up,” said Reed, a native of Addison, Michigan. “I always assumed I’d figure out what I wanted to be in college, get a degree and then get a job. I never would have thought this would have been my path.”
After graduating from Addison High School in 2007, Reed enrolled in some community college classes and accepted a managerial position on a farm. But he wasn’t really connecting with the curriculum or his work.
Then his uncle, a recruiter for the Marines, discussed some of the opportunities that a career in the military could offer – namely, getting some on-the-job experience for a wide range of fields.
“I owe almost everything for where I am today because of him,” Reed said. “He told me he would never recruit me, but he is the one who suggested IT as (a possible) Marine Corps career.”
Reed followed his uncle’s advice, and after boot camp in 2009, he was assigned as a cyber network operator, and he quickly realized he liked the work – and the potential that it provided.
“No one in my family has ever done IT,” he said. “It’s a complex field and can be difficult to understand unless you’re in it. But the training I got in the Marines was a great opportunity, especially for someone like me who’s from a small town and didn’t get to see all the options that are out there. And there’s such a need right now for these kinds of technical jobs.”
New careers being created every day
In fact, in Michigan there will be an estimated 545,000 openings through 2026 in Professional Trades.
In order to help connect employers with qualified workers, the Talent and Economic Development (Ted) Department created Going PRO in Michigan, a groundbreaking education campaign designed to dispel the myths about Professional Trades as “dark, dirty and dangerous” and showcase numerous career options, from millwrights, medical sonographers and massage therapists to web developers, IT technicians and network support specialists.
“There are new Professional Trades careers being created every day in Michigan because of the rapid development in technology and automation in the workplace,” said Stephanie Beckhorn, Ted’s acting director. “But many people still mistakenly think that these types of jobs are tedious or lead to dead-end careers. In fact, Professional Trades jobs actually provide ample opportunity for intellectual enrichment and unlimited upward mobility.”
Professional Trades careers don’t typically require a college degree, but many companies have programs that pay tuition if employees want to take classes at a community college or university to increase their skills. The median income for a career in Professional Trades in Michigan is a healthy $54,000. And because workers usually don’t have student loans to pay off, every paycheck stays right in their pocket.
‘On the right track’
IT is an extremely diverse field, with opportunities for people with a wide range of talents and skills. And for Dewpoint – which has grown from the 11 employees who founded it in 1996 to over 500 professionals today, and which has Michigan offices in Lansing, Grand Rapids and Rochester, as well as satellite locations in Indianapolis and San Francisco – that diversity runs the gamut even within the company.
“When we talk about IT, we’re not just talking about hands on keyboards doing programming and coding work,” said Dewpoint Vice President Michelle Massey. “There’s technical support, there’s financial support, there’s proposal work, there’s staffing. And for someone like Kacy, who came in with one set of skills but developed a whole new set, there’s really no limit to the growth available.”
As a solutions architect, Reed works with Dewpoint’s sales team, talking to clients and helping them discover ways to use IT to solve problems. Today he lives in Holt with his wife, Jessica, and his two children, Layne, 8, and Mollie, 6.
Increasingly, he’s found himself working more on the business development side of things at Dewpoint, getting into next-level activities such as marketing and strategizing.
“That experience inspired me to pursue an MBA, which I start this fall,” Reed said. “I’ve come a long way from working on that apple orchard. I have no idea where this will lead, but I know I’m at least on the right track.”