Step IT Up America is a 12-week training program designed to teach urban women of color the skills needed to succeed in IT-related jobs. Now the effort has come to Philadelphia.
Organized by UST Global, a Southern California-based IT consulting firm with offices around the world, including one near Pittsburgh, chose Women’s History Month to introduce its campaign in North Philadelphia recently. It is a part of UST Global’s larger mission to help employ more than 1,000 women in 10 cities across the nation, said organizers.
“Participants will receive intensive, immersive training in advanced visualization, mobility and quality assurance along with other aspects of information technology,” said Andrea Thornton, the Communications Program Manager at UST Global. “After graduation from the program, they will be supported by the full resources of UST Global to help ensure their success.”
The women will be paid for attending the 12-week class too, although the pay-rate was not disclosed.
At an orientation session earlier in March, representatives from UST Global, including Thornton, spoke to more than 50 interested women about the opportunity that Step IT Up could present. Representative W. Curtis Thomas, from Pennyslvania’s 181st District, was there as well to provide his support for a program that he said is essential to helping women succeed in an information technology career.
Thomas has been advocating the necessity for proper IT education of underrepresented communities, especially women, ever since he served as the chairman of the House Intergovernmental Affairs Subcommittee on Information Technology back in 2007.
“Technology is one of the five waves of real growth in Pennsylvania and across the country,” Thomas said at the orientation seminar. “UST Global is prepared to make Philadelphia a home for exposing women of color to these opportunities, and then to help them be able to take that information and do something with it.”
Women are indeed severely under-represented in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workforce. The U.S. Department of Commerce found that only 25 percent of people employed in STEM-related jobs are women, yet those women “earn 33% more than comparable women in non-STEM jobs [PDF].”
And the U.S. Department of Education projects that careers in computer systems–analysis and software development will increase between 22 percent to 32 percent by 2020.
These are two areas that Step IT Up is specifically training its participants in, with the hope that they will leave the program with the necessary knowledge to meet the qualifications of a job in one of these STEM fields. IT proficiency by applicants will vary the program’s focus.
There are three tracks for participants to choose from once the program starts: quality assurance, business analysis or software development.
However, the transition from the training program to the workforce could be the biggest challenge UST Global faces. It remains vague on the specific Philadelphia businesses it is partnered with, and how it plans to place its graduates with these businesses.
Thornton said, “We have several companies that are earmarked to take the women who we’ve trained on to their company, but we want to keep it confidential right now until the ink dries. We will disclose that once we near the end of the 12 weeks.”
This period between training and employment was a concern for the participants at the Philadelphia orientation session as well.
When asked about the uncertainty regarding what happens after the 12-week program, participant Rosa Jones said “I got the impression that it might be because everyone is coming in at different levels. So the class is going to have to adjust for that, which means when they send us out to their clients, I imagine our assignments are going to be on different levels.”
Some of the women who attended the orientation seminar remained optimistic about the job placement that UST Global promises.
“It’s been a really long road to find a career, and when I come across Step IT Up, it specifically said something about women who were looking for a change,” Salwa Shabazz said. “So that immediately attracted me to the program, and now I am very excited. This seems like a really good opportunity that I couldn’t let pass me by.”
UST Global initiated Step IT Up in Atlanta in the fall of 2013, but only 33 women signed up for the inaugural class.
The Philadelphia class should have started on March 17, but there has been so much interest in the program that UST Global decided to interview women into next week. The 12-week class will not begin until April 7, with an expected attendance of more than 100 people, said Thornton.-30-
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