Jeff Foster saw the writing on the wall a year ago when he was laid off as a project manager for a construction company in North Carolina.

Foster was earning $85,000 a year, and as the construction industry was fading, his company saw fewer jobs. The small company, which Foster had joined only six months earlier for better pay, had essentially put all of its eggs into one basket by relying on a grocery chain for work.

But for Foster, 46, the layoff has allowed him to get training in a field he had been interested in for years -- information technology, or IT.

He now gets free training through the Comp TIA Education Foundation, which provides free IT training and certification to people in need, such as dislocated workers who have lost their jobs, U.S. military veterans and people with disabilities.


"A lot of them are just flat out of work," said Dennis Zimmerman, executive director of Comp TIA.

Veterans make up 70% of the people it trains, Zimmerman said in a phone interview with WalletPop. The organization gets its funding from donors, such as IT companies looking for people to hire.

"I've lost my job and I got the opportunity to do something I want to do," Foster said in a telephone interview with WalletPop.

It sounds like the perfect training for someone out of a job: Free online classes that in a year could lead to information technology jobs paying $60,000 or more per year.

Last year it trained 854 people, who averaged four months of training for certification to get a job in IT support or on a help desk. More than half went on to get more training through Comp TIA, up to a year's worth of online classes, that would retail for $20,000, Zimmerman said.

Many of those people went on to jobs paying $60,000 to $80,000 per year as IT administrators or working on security networks, he said. Foster, of Boonville, N.C., said he expects to earn $45,000 to $60,000 as a network administrator in North Carolina when he's done with his training in six months to a year. After a few years of experience, the salary could go to $75,000 to $100,000, he said.

Foster started the free online certification classes a year ago. He's also paying for other classes outside of the program.

It's not a job for everyone, both men say. Of the 13,500 people who contacted Comp TIA last year, 12,000 went on to get IT literacy training and 854 went into the online classes, Zimmerman said.

Math and technology skills are necessary, said Foster, who has a dual bachelor's degree in business and sociology, and a master's degree in entrepreneurship.

Those degrees look a long way from the construction business, and the IT certifications look a lot further.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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