Grambling Alumnus Finds Success at CenturyLink

 

By Angelita Faller

Toby Shoulders, GSU Grad and CenturyLink EmployeeToby Shoulders was always a hard worker, but he often wonders if a bit more hard work at Grambling State University would have saved him from the years he spent working in a job that was far removed from his college education.

“Setting goals and knowing what you want to do is a good thing,” said Shoulders, who is now an information technology engineer at CenturyLink in Monroe. “It’s best to start early. If you wait until the senior year of college (to network), it’s going to be hard to make it. If I had done an internship, I may have gotten a full-time job sooner.”

After graduating from Wossman High School in Monroe in 2002, Shoulders enlisted in the U.S. Army and started attending classes at Louisiana Tech and later Grambling State University. In 2004, he left for a 13-month deployment in Afghanistan. He returned to Grambling in 2007 and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems in 2010.

Like many recent college graduates, Shoulders had difficulty finding work in his major. He became the manager of Journeys Shoe Store in Monroe to support his growing family. He and his wife, Ashley, have three young daughters: Abriana, Corinthian and Ashlyn.

“Like everyone else, I always wanted a dream job, but it wasn’t easy,” Shoulders said. “I ended up becoming a store manager at a shoe store, and I climbed as high as I could. That wasn’t the path that I was looking for, but at the time I had to settle for what I could find, because I had a wife and kids, and I had to put food on the table.”

However, Shoulders never gave up on his dream of working in information technology, and he had the chance to return to IT as the first successful participant of an innovative apprenticeship program developed by CenturyLink in 2013 to recruit potential employees with a background in information technology.

“The goal of this program is to look for people in the Monroe area who have a college degree and some sort of IT connection who are either underemployed, or are in transition, or unemployed,” said Odell Riley, vice president of corporate services and chief diversity officer at CenturyLink.

One of Shoulders’ classmates from Grambling, who was working at CenturyLink at the time, ran into Shoulders at the shoe store he managed and passed Shoulders’ resume on to a professional staffing agency who was reviewing candidates for CenturyLink’s work program. They contacted Shoulders the very next day.

“Toby had all the experience you look for in a manager. Toby had proved that he was a leader, and that, with his IT degree, got him in the door,” said Grant Lockey, vice president of Progressive IT. “He showed up dressed to a tee in a suit and out-dressed us all. He came in and was so impressive. It was unanimous that he was a go. This kid was getting hired no matter what. He had all the skills. We just identified him.”

Shoulders was one of the first two participants to enter the work program, where he would rotate between different IT departments at CenturyLink every three months to determine where he fit into the company.

Within six months, Shoulders had been offered a full-time position with CenturyLink, something his supervisors attribute to his willingness to work hard and learn new technology in a fast-paced environment.

“Toby stepped up to the plate during his time, has worked very hard and is working out very well,” said Riley. “One of the things that attracted us to Toby was his integrity, his commitment to improving himself and his career, his eagerness to become part of CenturyLink, and his willingness to come in and work and to learn new things in a new environment.”

Meanwhile, Shoulders is using his experience to give back to his alma mater and help prepare Grambling students for the all-important job search. He has already served as a guest speaker to students at the Center for Student Professional Development (CSPD) and will be a mentor in the center’s mentoring program.

“Toby will be a great mentor. Although his personal journey didn’t unfold as he had planned or expected, he did not give up,” said Greta Carter, director of CSPD. “He continued to learn from the experiences that were presented to him.  He remained focused on what he ultimately wanted, and because he shared his goals with his friend, Toby’s network expanded to include the people that could help him get to where he wanted to be.”

While Shoulders loves his new career in information technology at CenturyLink, he also wants people to learn from his story and understand that they should not give up on their career dreams.

“Sometimes we get sidetracked, but we are still able to meet our goals,” he said. “For the most part, each day is going to bring something different. There are different challenge and different opportunities.”