A partnership between an Omaha business and a community college is setting a standard when it comes to addressing what some consider the digital divide in North Omaha.
Metropolitan Community College is working with iFixOmaha and CTIA-WISE to offer the Mobile Device Repair Academy, the first industry and post-secondary education mobile device repair partnership in the nation.
“We’re providing workforce development,” said Jason DeWater, founder of iFixOmaha and iFixAmerica. “We are training and certifying students, people in the community, and future entrepreneurs looking to find a job in the mobile repair industry.”
The program offers a mobile device repair certification, internship, hands-on training and job placement to students in the academy.
The one-week bootcamp launches Spring 2023 and repeats four times yearly as demand requires.
Participants of the program are also led by instructors who are skilled technicians and bring real-world experience into the classroom.
Students participating in the program attend a one-week boot camp and an eight-week internship. Participants of the program can attain two Wireless Service Industry Excellence certifications after they complete the boot camp.
“We go over the anatomy of smartphones, tablets, and wireless devices,” DeWater said. “We also discuss the best industry practices to handle customer privacy and data.”
According to DeWater, funding for program candidates is available, and many have had their boot camp cost covered with the benefit of a paid internship.
DeWater is already giving job offers to recent graduates of the academy who are ready to take the next step into the mobile repair industry.
“We want to empower more and more people here in Omaha and our surrounding communities with the knowledge and the anatomy of smartphones, how to fix them and how to service them,” DeWater said.
For years DeWater has been giving back to the Omaha community regarding their technology needs. As the founder of iFixOmaha, his partnership with Metropolitan Community College helps address the digital needs of residents in the Omaha metro area.
Last December, the Metropolitan Community College – Fort Omaha campus opened the Digital Express, which serves as a resource to not just students and faculty but to anyone in the greater Omaha community.
It provides technology checkout, Reboot Central, K-12 educational support, access to digital libraries, workshops and educational opportunities to the community. The pandemic revealed a divide in access to technology in the North Omaha community, so Digital Express was founded to address the needs of residents.
Beverly Lahlum Taylor is the director of Digital Express. She acknowledged how the history of redlining in North Omaha contributes to the digital divide in the metro area.
“When you talk about redlining, you’re talking about changing the future of a place. The digital divide that exists in North Omaha is because redlining plays a part in that and continues to,” Taylor said.
With the help of community leaders and stakeholders, Taylor conducted focus groups with residents of the Omaha metro to identify their needs. Mobile device repair was mentioned, and with that, Reboot Central was developed.
Reboot Central, powered by iFixOmaha, answers technology questions and offers low-tech repair services for computers, laptops, tablets and cell phones needing service.
Reboot Central is unique in that MCC covers the labor cost for technicians. When people come to Reboot Central in need of a repair they only have to pay for the cost of part, or in some cases, they don’t need to pay at all.
“Beverly reached out to me,” said DeWater. “She is actively trying to get internet connectivity to everyone in the area. She was speaking the same language we were trying to speak, and we realized we can all work together.”
According to DeWater, the partnership with MCC is something the mobile device repair industry can use as a template for success in the future.
Alan Ramsay is an iFixOmaha technician at Reboot Central and an instructor for the Mobile Device Repair Academy. He can work with people in need of technology services and guide them through the process of fixing their devices.
“My focus is on the customer and figuring out why the device isn’t working,” Ramsay said, “I have people come to me who have already tried to repair their own device and on the other end of the spectrum of people who may have had a password set up for them but don’t know how to use it.”
Ramsay said it’s easy for him to come to work every day knowing that what he is doing is not just fixing a device, but he is providing an experience where people can feel welcome to ask any question and not feel rushed or judged.
Becky Connor, outreach specialist for Digital Express, said she believes people find the space to be inviting and welcoming no matter their age.
“Monday morning, there were about eight 70-year-old women waiting for a workshop to start and later in the same space were students sitting down,” Connor said.
Connor likes seeing people engage with the space. From families to individuals, people want to come back, whether it’s for technology or for social interaction.
“There is a tone set for this place for us to interact with each other,” Connor said, “Everybody that walks through that door, whether you are a student, faculty, staff, or community member, you get the same level of service.”
According to Taylor, Digital Express is a marriage between technology and community.
“This is a very unique facility,” said Taylor, director of Digital Express. “Usually, a college is closed, but we are open to the community.”