Last November, the trains that normally shot South in regular intervals on the Broad Street Line were at a standstill.
But as SEPTA’s transit workers—at strike over wage and pension issues—were busy on the picket lines, nothing was going to stop Eric Harper, bound to a wheelchair, from making it to class. Harper, living in North Philadelphia, trekked more than 40 blocks to Drexel University.
Harper is one of ten students that graced the stage at Drexel’s Mitchell Auditorium Tuesday morning to receive his diploma for ITWorks, an Information Technology job-training program for disadvantaged young adults. Harper is a member of the first graduating ITWorks class, a program put together by NPower PA, a nonprofit that does IT work for other local nonprofits.
Through a collaboration with the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania, NPower helped identify a need for a cost-free training program to help young high school or equivalency graduates that were neither employed or seeking post-secondary education, whom were getting by on part-time work. It was as much an opportunity to to support the community and it was to support NPower’s partner organizations, who were seeking more hands in their IT departments.
“Sometimes it’s hard to make the connection between what we’re doing on the IT side and the direct impact on the community. Here’s a program that we can point to and say that we’re having a direct impact on the lives of these individuals,” says NPower Director of Fundraising and Communications Anthony Pisapia.
Students of ITWorks spent 8 hours per day, five days a week for the last 12 weeks at the Goodwin College of Professional Studies, Drexel’s adult learning center. An additional five weeks were spent at internships throughout the region, at organizations like PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the Philadelphia Horticultural Society and Reed Technology and Information Services, among others.
The free program had little technology skill requirements. Applicants needed only know the basics, like how start a computer, use the Internet, and compose in Microsoft Word.
“This program is about how we can train individuals in the types of things we do at a basic level,” Pisapia says. “This is the first time that some of the individuals have ever been in an office setting. Many of them often go into retail or food service right out of high school.”
The students were offered workshops on professionalism, communication and other soft skills to cover what they lacked. The program also helped students with interview and resume writing workshops.
Horsham-based Reed Technology, which manipulates data for clients like the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and a growing list of pharmacuetical clients, was one of the organizations that worked with an ITWorks intern.
Reed Vice President, Operations and Technology Services David Ballai says that the company offered the intern a base salary and that she learned basic IT, like wiping and rebuilding systems, and some basic networking training. The intern has even tested for her Microsoft Certification, Ballai says.
Still, in this tough job market, Pisapia says that many company executives that are perhaps considering hiring participating students are still very much in a “wait and see” battle with the economy.
Lila Santos, a graduate of ITWorks, offered her thoughts on the program. Santos, a single mother, called the program a “last hope,” in a letter to organizers.
“I wanted to be a role model for my son and didn’t know where or how to begin. Coming in as a person with little knowledge of configuring software or hardware, I not find myself wanting to learn more and more about technology,” she wrote.
“ITWorks gave me hope when I thought there was no more chances.”-30-
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