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A Virginia New Collar Future

How A Local Student Got $60,000 Job Offers Right Out of High School

Kwaku Afriyie (pronounced “Kweh-koo Ah-free-yay”) is an 18-year-old kid from Prince William County, Virginia, who will graduate this month with no fewer than 25 job offers from tech companies offering $60,000…and up. But he’s also your average kid who loves popping Skittles and eating vanilla ice cream. What gives?  

Yes, of course, he works hard. Like an eye-popping 18-hour workday to fulfill his three major responsibilities: finishing high school, studying for and passing IT certifications which were key to his job offers, and working at Cyber Bytes Foundation gaining on-the-job work experience. 

But this is also a tale of what can happen when you merge the desperate need by employers across the country for certified entry-level IT professionals with an innovative way of educating our graduating seniors. There are hundreds of thousands of entry-level positions across the country going unfilled because…we are graduating our kids without the necessary certifications to get a job the minute they set foot outside graduation hall.

Cyber Bytes Foundation, a non-profit located a mile off Quantico Marine Corps base, decided to be a force for change.

“I met Matt Weaver, director of Cyber Bytes Foundation when I went there for my second or third IT certification test,” says Afriyie. “They had all these cool things going on, like building a quantum computer and the world’s largest supercomputer dedicated to STEM education, hosting the annual Hack the Capitol events, bringing all the major technology companies in the world to their facility. I thought ‘Wow, this is where I want to be.’

“Matt and I got to talking, and next thing I know I’m working for the Foundation doing IT operations and helping folks who were struggling with the certifications to study and pass. Which, by the way, when they study with me, they pass the very next go-around,” he grins.

Meanwhile, Afriyie has passed five certifications in record time. How? You’d think his school system would have prepared him for that, and indeed, his favorite teacher, Mr. Bimber, is the one who helped inspire him to get on his current career track.

However, Afriyie may be an example of our public school systems needing additional support to keep up with the constantly changing world in the technology sector. Afriyie hopped onto Youtube to help him study—and pass—advanced IT certifications that can stump adults. And plugging into Cyber Bytes Foundation is what allowed him to gain work experience and connect with dozens of employers who are now interested in hiring him. In turn, this experience has shaped Cyber Bytes Foundation’s focus on supporting local school systems in re-envisioning how they prepare students for the 21st century. 

“This is what I call the ‘new collar’ workforce,” says Weaver. “There used to be such a stigma with CTE programs that often lead to blue-collar jobs and such a premium placed on sending kids to university right after graduation for white-collar jobs. But that’s not how the 21st century world works anymore. Kwaku’s going to college this fall—at night. During the day, he’ll be making a great salary doing a job he loves and all because he gained the right certifications and was exposed to potential employers through us. This is a model we should replicate in school systems across the country.”

And the most important ingredient of all to Afriyie’s success? “I have an extremely strong work ethic,” comes his unequivocal answer. His parents, both of whom work in the medical field and immigrated here from Ghana, have painstakingly ingrained in him the need to work with a singular focus towards his goals. His long-term goal? Becoming a full-fledged cybersecurity professional. His goal right now? Popping that next Skittle and telling a friend—maybe you?— about how you could also make some relatively simple, but life-changing decisions and become part of the new collar future.

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