Tech training nonprofit Per Scholas was awarded $25,000 from the Nicholas Kristof Holiday Impact Prize in 2021. The org will put the entire awarded into its Career Access Fund, which supports its work to provide women and BIPOC workers with free training and professional development in IT.
Kristof, a former New York Times columnist, selected Per Scholas as one of the recipients of this year’s prize. Following the honor, every donation to the nonprofit is being matched dollar-for-dollar up to $2 million by Jane Street, a global trading firm.
The funds allow Per Scholas to run tuition-free training programs in cities like Baltimore. This spring, it will be running two concurrent, 12-15 week bootcamp courses to help Baltimore residents achieve an entry-level job in IT support. With the award, the coming cohort will be able to double in size from 25 to 50 people.
Applications are open for the March 2022 cohort on a first-come, first-serve basis.
“Folks who have participated in our courses go back and tell others how we’ve changed the trajectory of their careers or opened up opportunities for them,” said Jessica Diaz Council, who recently joined Per Scholas as Baltimore site director.
The program boasts a 97% success rate among its participants graduating with a CompTIA A+ certification and a Google IT Support Professional Certificate. According to Council, it also has a job placement rate of 80% in a tech-related field.
The nontraditional pathway offered by Per Scholas is specifically geared toward economic equity. It works in 16 cities, noting that millions of people across the country have a high school diploma but make less than $25,000. Per Scholas notes that the average salary its graduates make in their first job is $30,000.
Offering free, career-oriented tech training to underrepresented groups is designed to help to create a more diverse IT workforce in the US. Currently, data shows 23.1% of workers in the IT field are women and 10% are Black people, according to job recruitment site Zippia, which backs its estimates against the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Census and job openings data.
Per Scholas’ course is listed as suitable for all skill levels. Topcs include troubleshooting, hard drive technologies, and system administration. Per Scholas also links participants with career coaches, offering professional development and networking opportunities.
“There’s no one thing that’ll make you successful,” said Council about what Per Scholas looks for in a candidate for the program. “It’s your experience, your determination, your ability to pick up some of the material but also your ability to dedicate the time to the course.”
The courses require a commitment of Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for remote learning classes. The classes have been remote since the start of the pandemic in March of 2020. The organization plans to revisit the possibility of in-person classes early next year.
Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.