IT government contractor Storage Strategies, Inc. (SSI) has found a unique way to train the workforce, while also giving back to the community in Manassas Park.
SSI is a federal contractor that provides IT support services in the United States and abroad for several government agencies, including The Defense Logistics Agency, the Department of State, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, and the U.S. Army Cyber Command.
According to SSI President and CEO Steven Mackie, the company started in his basement, growing and developing into the successful company that it is today.
“Our go-by is, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. And as a company, we saw the historically underutilized business program that we saw that the Small Business Administration (SBA) facilitates as an interesting way for us to give back to the local community as a business,” said Mackie.
After learning about HUB Zones, SSI became a part of the program back in 2014.
According to Mackie, for a contractor to work in the HUB Zone program, the company must work in an underutilized business area, and employ at least 35% of its workforce with individuals that live within the HUB Zone.
The requirement led to some creative problem solving, and the program the company now uses to help give back to the community.
“We chose to [fulfill that requirement] by starting a community service project, to provide IT tutoring and basic skills training to local adults, that may be in the manual labor force now, but would like to transition into something that requires some basic computer skills…as a high-end IT company, it’s sometimes challenging to find HUB Zone residents that have the skills that we need. So we kind of took that problem and turned it on its head. And we decided, ‘Why don’t we create an IT training community service project, which creates IT talented people’, take HUB Zone people who would otherwise may be lacking skills, and give them the skills that we could later employ on a contract,” said Mackie.
Mackie shared an interesting story of how SSI came to be in Manassas Park, after spotting the city on a map and meeting with former Manassas Park Mayor Frank Jones.
“We were looking for a place – we needed an office…the city kindly offered to rent us what’s affectionately known as the ‘Stone House’ which was a previously abandoned 1,200 square foot rambler…and it was pretty much uninhabitable from a working perspective. We came in and put in about $15,000 in to refurb – painting, carpet, fix the HVAC…we’re very grateful for where we are. It’s right in the middle of three baseball fields, and we get to watch Little League teams, which we sponsor,” said Mackie.
SSI currently employs 15 part-time employees and two full-time employees, many of which work with area residents on tutoring in basic computer skills.
“A number of them are high school students, or college students, or moms looking for one shift [a week]…we train all of our folks that work at what we call the Career Resource Center as Microsoft Office specialists – they’re certified in Word, and Excel, and PowerPoint, and Outlook. And they turn around and provide tutoring to local adults,” said Mackie.
So far 295 individuals have gone through the tutoring program with SSI.
“A lot of the people that come through the door don’t have a computer and may have never used one before – don’t know how to type. So we take people from step one all the way through setting up an email address, how do you a Google search for a job, how do you apply for a job, how do I write a resume,” said Mackie.
Over the last 12-months, interest in the tutoring services has grown by 75%.
“For those who don’t have a computer at home, we’re a great resource. Because they can come here and use a computer for as long as they like,” Mackie said.
Mackie shared some of the success stories the program has generated thus far.
“It’s very reassuring to know that we’re giving something back. I can say that we’ve had five people we’ve hired over the last couple of years, that we hired as part-time people who left to go get full-time jobs, which is sort of the ideal. You come in here and people find another job. They took the skills, and experience, and training which we provided to them here and they’re able to put that on their resume and go get full-time employment elsewhere,” said Mackie.
One individual in particular, Jennifer Villatoro, started working as a tutor for SSI, and through her hard work and experience, is now in the process of being cleared to work as a contractor for SSI on a Department of State IT contract.
“They’re helping me with a security clearance for a job that they helped me [get] – that I’m so thankful that I got,” said Villatoro.
Saul Gonzalez, an IT technician, began with SSI around three months ago.
“[Since high school] I’ve been going from job to job, trying to figure out what I want to do with my career…eventually I started wanting to get into IT, but didn’t really know how to get into IT because I really had had no experience in it…but about three months ago I found this opportunity…and it’s a part-time position where I come in, you know, work on my skills, train the community on Excel or Microsoft products…and as well as I’m learning for myself,” said Gonzalez.
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