The digital divide today has vastly changed from the first dot-com bubble in the 1990s. What used to be a dichotomy between those with computers and those without, now has become a divide between the “tech-savvy” and those who have the tools but are missing the basic technology skills needed for an entry-level job.
Per Scholas, a nonprofit organization located in the South Bronx, aims to bridge that divide. Founded in 1995, Per Scholas has worked to bring computer access to low-income families in the city’s poorest congressional district. Now it has grown into the Per Scholas Institute for Technology, an IT workforce development program that helps low-income high school graduates and adults learn computer technology and train to become IT technicians in the corporate world. It trains about 450 students a year.
The program runs for 15 weeks, five days a week, with one day per week dedicated to workplace and communication skills, and resume building. Prospective students can attend a walk-in orientation and are required to take the Test for Adult Basic Education (TABE). After 15 weeks, students will have received their CompTIA A+ and Microsoft Technology Specialist certification. Through job placement services, Per Scholas works extensively with students to find employment up to two years after graduation.
The students all come from low-income backgrounds but the demographic is diverse. Students range in age from 18 to 55 years with a variety of job and technology experience. Some hope to work as IT technicians after graduation, while others want to join nonprofits like Per Scholas to help those in need.
Per Scholas student Anatashe Alli, a high school graduate and mother, hopes to use her passion for computers to work in Cablevision and support her son, and then move on to government: the FBI.
“They’re kind of opening doors for me, so that’s really why I’m at Per Scholas,” Alli said, “Technology is always upgrading every year so you never know what’s coming next.”
Per Scholas also has specialized programs and partnerships with veterans’ and women’s organizations to assist veterans and women hoping to work in IT. Per Scholas reserves a portion of class seats for U.S. veterans, and is establishing partnerships with corporations such as JPMorgan Chase and Time Warner Cable to ensure veteran employment. The women’s program lasts for 18-20 weeks instead of the traditional 15 weeks, to accommodate for family obligations and childcare.
MetroFocus host Rafael Pi Roman spoke with Per Scholas CEO Plinio Ayala about the costs and benefits of a technology education.
“The cost for us is about $5,000 an individual, so when we raise the money for that individual, we want to make sure that they’re ready for this experience,” Ayala said about the application process. Per Scholas is comprised of a staff of 41, plus volunteers, and receives funding from corporations, foundations, and state and city government. According the Ayala, the education is an important response to the rapid growth in the city’s technology sector.
“I believe the jobs are there,” he said, “Everything that we do in this program is based on the feedback we get from the employer community, and that’s why I believe we’re as successful as we are.”
Per Scholas also partners with IT Asset Disposition service companies in its Asset Recovery Program, which helps clients dispose of used computers and technology and provide for those that need it. A portion of the revenue goes to funding all of their other programs. Clients have included companies like Con Edison, Fox Cable News, and Metro-North.
According to Ayala, 85 percent of the students graduate and 85 percent of the graduates find employment. This year Per Scholas hopes to open a new location in Columbus, Ohio, to start expanding its technology services and education across the nation.
For more technology news, watch “MetroFocus: The Tech Economy,” airing on THIRTEEN on June 30 at 5 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. and July 12 at 8:30 p.m.; on WLIW at 5:30 a.m. on June 30; on NJTV on July 1 at 5:30 a.m. and July 2 at 4:30 a.m.