One-woman whirlwind: IT training expert is a do-it-all ‘worker bee’
Jay McElroy is a friendly, busy and highly productive woman. It’s an understatement to call her a “ball of fire” — she’s more like a “Supernova!” A supernova of ideas and actions, that is. Jay herself describes it this way: “I’m, like, on speed from the minute I wake up, and I just go all day.”
In 2004 she founded McElroy Enterprises (ME), a corporate training company specializing in hands-on training for careers in the corporate IT, healthcare, retail and construction fields. “We put together a Job Candidate Certification (JCC) professionalization learning management system to give job seekers a complete education in preparing for, finding and succeeding in employment,” she said.
ME has had phenomenal success. At one point, with a barely believable staff of just 10, they were helping between 800 and 1,000 people per month get back to work in IT, healthcare, retail and construction. Beginning in 2008, JCC’s scope expanded to include additional markets and embraced the increasing utilization of video, electronic media and related technologies.
A lifelong work ethic
Jay is definitely the driving force behind ME. She praises her parents for teaching her to “work hard and never quit.” She was raised in a large family of “about 13 children,” she said. “My parents were always taking in other children who needed some help and guidance.”
Her father was a postal worker who did construction on the side, while her mom laid the ground rules for life at home. “We always helped around the house with chores. As each kid graduated from high school we were given the same option: If you weren’t planning on continuing on to college, then you had to pay rent to live at home, and have a plan to put enough money aside to get your own place,” she said.
Jay’s original career interest was to be an undertaker. “I figured it had lots of job opportunities and I’d always be employed,” she said. “Mom never told us what type of jobs we should work, ‘Just work hard and be honest.’ But this was the one time she told me to ‘pick another career,’ so I chose computers.”
Jay worked full-time while attending the University of Pittsburgh and graduated with a degree in Information Systems, as well as a minor in Computer Science and Industrial Engineering.
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“I always wanted to work for IBM in Tampa, Florida, but there were no job offers. So instead I went to work for the Westinghouse Corporation in Pittsburgh, where I was assigned to a number of different divisions and learned a lot of great things,” she said. At Westinghouse her work ethic and positive attitude landed her in “special programs,” an elite group of employees that traveled around the country working on various projects.
IBM eventually called and asked her to come to Raleigh, N.C., to interview for a positon. Like a good high achiever, Jay didn’t just interview for one position: “I met with eight different managers and got eight job offers,” she said. Speaking later with HR, Jay mentioned that she really wanted to live and work in Tampa, so they sent her down there for an interview and, of course, she got that job offer too.
To top things off, IBM asked if, on her way home, she could stop in Maryland to meet a couple of executives. “In Maryland I interviewed with nine managers and received seven offers. I felt really good,” she said with a laugh. “HR told me that they didn’t bother returning calls from the other two managers, and that my only decision should be whether I wanted to live in Florida or Maryland. I had an aunt in Maryland, so that’s where I went.”
Real estate and home improvement
Most people move to a new city and slowly start learning the area. Jay is not most people: “I wanted to get to know the area quickly, so I earned my real estate license.” High energy and a sunny disposition enabled her to be a successful agent. “I would show houses in the evenings and on weekends, and even on my lunch breaks,” she said.
She sold houses to and for IBM employees, even going the extra mile to help flip their properties. She enjoys telling how she used construction skills learned from her father: “Working for IBM often means, ‘I been moved.’ When an employee would be transferred, I would agree to move into their empty house and renovate it. I’d do sheetrock, floors, painting and electrical. Then they could sell the house quickly.”
Jay loves to garden and is an accomplished landscaper. “A neighbor saw how I landscaped my yard and asked me to do his,” she said. “Before I knew it, others were asking and I ended up landscaping almost all the yards on my street.” In her spare time she has also built two houses.
Jay’s first IBM job was in database management. “I worked really hard,” she said. “When I moved on to another positon, they replaced me with five full-time people.”
“I just wanted to be a worker bee.”
Hard work and a can-do attitude led to career opportunities with other well-known companies such as Concert, a joint venture between British telecom, AT&T and MCI, Computer Sciences Corporation and the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University. Although Jay has often worked in management she said she never wanted to: “I just wanted to be a worker bee. My skills lie in understanding how all facets of a system work — at the nitty-gritty level, and I credit my career experiences with helping me recognize trending developments in IT training.”
Between 2005 and 2011 Jay recognized the need for workforce skills training, particularly among young people. “I saw they were lacking in basic skills that would help them find employment,” she said. “So I created Reaching Higher, a program to teach youth soft skills, created a six-week curriculum to help them find employment, and they started finding jobs. Then some of their parents started asking if we could teach them the same skills. So we did by creating Reaching Hire, which focused more intensely on employment.”
McElroy Enterprises has always included strong elements of IT training in each course. Recognizing the importance of IT certifications, Jay began teaching how search engines work, and how job candidates could get their resumes to the top of the stack. “Anyone can put a resume together,” she said, “but if you don’t know how things work once you put it online, it will not be seen.”
In 2012, the U.S. Department of Labor selected Prince George’s Community College to receive a grant of $2.5 million through the department’s Trade Adjustment Assistance program. The College used the grant to develop the Hybrid Technology Training (HTT) program.
HTT partners with employers to create accelerated training in computer technology, networking and cybersecurity for unemployed workers, veterans, displaced and disadvantaged citizens, and victims of foreign outsourcing. Jay and McElroy Enterprises were a natural fit.
When HTT contacted ME’s Board, they suggested Jay help out, calling it a “vacation” of sorts for her. “I’ve never been one to take regular vacations — haven’t been on one in 10 years,” she said with a laugh. “But I liked what HTT was doing and I knew I could help.”
With Jay, HTT is focused on IT certifications and is able to incorporate virtual instruction, interactive simulations, online and real-world problem-solving challenges, and collaborations between learners and instructors.
In September of 2014, HTT began an eight-week pilot program focused on earning certifications for CompTIA: A+, Network+ and Security+. They have had great success, and Jay is understandably proud. “Our first cohort started with 18 students — three had to drop out, but the other 15 earned all three certifications,” she said. “Even better, several of them found employment in IT during the most difficult time of the year, December and January.”
One student, Roderick DeBrew, told how HTT helped him earn his certs and land an IT position: “Since December 12, 2014, I’ve been a contractor for the Department of Defense, in a cleared position as a NOC engineer. Every day I’m learning new techniques, processes and operational methods as it applies to Information Security and Data Centers.”
Success for students
A second cohort began in January and is showing great promise as well. In just five weeks, 20 of 25 students earned CompTIA’s A+ certification, and two earned Network+. Two other students earned TestOut Corportation’s PC Pro and one earned TestOut’s Network Pro.
Jay attributes HTT’s success to assessments that help students identify skill sets and interests. She also channels her mom by firmly telling students that, “No is not an option!” Jay said some students struggle and want to quit, but she does her level best to keep them engaged. “I know this program works,” she said. “If they put their time in, and sacrifice for a very short period of their lives, they will be successful and the sky is the limit.”
One of the components HTT uses to help students prepare for certification exams is TestOut Corporation’s LabSim Certification Training. “We use the trouble-shooting component scenarios for students to give them real-life on-the-job experience: Say they are moving an office and need to set up computers. Students just log in and do the lab; it shows what they can do,” Jay said. “LabSim is a phenomenal experience for students.”
HTT will continue its program through September and is hoping to market it more widely to students and the community. As DeBrew says, “The IT field is huge! I’m a product of the Hybrid Training classes. It’s a birthplace for a new opportunity to build a rewarding career in the IT industry.”
Surprisingly, for a woman who pushes IT cert training, Jay doesn’t have any certifications. “I kind of designed my own job candidate certification,” she said. “It took years to perfect it.”
Jay is a deeply religious woman who credits all her successes to her best friend, Emmanuel (God with us), and she feels an obligation to do as much good as she can. Her motivation in utilizing IT training is to make a difference in people’s lives. “I really get excited when I put something IT-based out there,” she said with a wide smile, “and it helps turn someone’s life around.”