I agree big time about experience trumping anything having to do with a classroom. Unfortunately,(it seems anyway), gone are the days of landing a job that way. Very well qualified candidates dont even make it in the door because they are so ridiculously vetted by HR personnel.
Regarding not applying to IT positions posted, I have yet to see one that I realistically qualify for. Outside of hardware repair, I have zero network/IT experience. If I'm missing them, please, by all means let me know.
When it's a completely random job posting, yes, you'll have a very difficult time getting in. However, when it's a possible acquaintence (like another CLSB member), ALWAYS try. Why? Because there's a greater chance that they'll be willing to listen to you pitch your strengths.
And that's what you need to learn how to do - pitch your strengths & accomplishments. So maybe you don't have the exact experience in the specific tech someone is looking for. But on the other hand, you've been working with hardware for many years, meaning you have at least a foundation to start from. Additionally, you can talk about your work experiences, maybe customer experience, etc. Talk about how you're willing to learn, can learn fast, blah, blah, blah.
In the end, when you have a key person's ear and attention, take advantage of it. This is why networking events also work really well for finding a job. You're not a name on a sheet of paper, you're a person who now has 30 seconds to pitch themselves.
In the tech world, many places are willing to hire someone who may be entry-level, if they show characteristics of being trainable, motivated, etc., especially if they've had a difficult time finding someone more experienced who is also a good fit. It allows them to mold you how they please, pay you a bit less than someone who is senior, etc.