Professional Development
Career development / POC in Tech / Q&As

6 questions with Per Scholas leaders supporting Baltimore’s tech aspirants

The organization continues to fight local tech's diversity gap by offering mock interviews, headshot lounge sessions and tuition-free tech training.

Scenes from a Per Scholas Baltimore program. (Courtesy photos)

This editorial article is a part of State of Local Tech Month of Technical.ly’s editorial calendar.

A Fells Point-based nationwide nonprofit will offer certifications in CompTIA A+ and becoming an Amazon Web Services (AWS) Certified Cloud Practitioner via its upcoming hybrid course — and do so for free to residents of Baltimore City and several surrounding counties.

As a tuition-free tech training program, Per Scholas Baltimore aims to increase tech sector diversity by providing technical training opportunities to underrepresented adult learners. Recent data shows gradual improvements in Black hires, and reports like the 21st Century Cities Initiative and UpSurge Baltimore’s “Diversity 2023” show that Baltimore exhibited a comparatively higher level of diversity among tech startups. Despite these positive developments, still considerable progress remains to foster diversity within the industry.

In 2022, Per Scholas Baltimore hit another milestone by being distinguished as a Bank of America Neighborhood Builder. Building on its prior accomplishments, Per Scholas has garnered recognition and financial support from entities like Comcast, which recently sat down with Per Scholas Baltimore Managing Director Jessica Diaz Council to discuss building a diverse tech workforce. Ascendium Education Group, Baltimore Women’s Giving Circle and Grads2Careers count themselves as Per Scholas funders.

L to R: Jarrod Wilson, Jessica Diaz Council and Charee L. Grover of Per Scholas’ Baltimore team (Courtesy images)

Per Scholas leadership recently discussed upcoming application deadlines, the organization’s local partnerships, the importance of LinkedIn mock interviews and inspiring success stories with Technical.ly. This Q&A, conducted via email with responses attributed to the three leaders in the photo above, has been edited for length and clarity.

How does Per Scholas use partnerships to foster a sense of belonging for those entering tech?

By providing resources for obtaining professional attire, we establish a standard for workforce readiness. Our partnerships with Sharp Dressed Man Baltimore and Success in Style help us to emphasize professionalism in dress and create a sense of belonging in the tech industry for our learners. Imposter syndrome is a persistent challenge that our trainees face, and to address this, we introduce them to the aforementioned organizations early on through events like our headshot lounge. We believe that our approach ensures that all learners are better prepared for post-graduation employment opportunities.

What’s a headshot lounge and how does it support learners?

We know that the demand for qualified tech talent is high and talent sourcing approaches have changed post-pandemic. Recruiters are actively searching for a candidate on LinkedIn. During Per Scholas Baltimore programming, we provide learners with a free professional headshot photoshoot in partnership with a Baltimore area storytelling company, GoodLight.Media.

A Per Scholas learner participating in a headshot lounge. (Courtesy photo)

How else do you help participants present themselves on LinkedIn?

For every learner, whether hybrid or fully remote, creating a LinkedIn profile is one of the first steps in Per Scholas Baltimore programming as we believe LinkedIn is the go-to digital network for professionals. On a weekly basis, we spend time cultivating our learners’ LinkedIn pages and sharing best practices. We empower learners to envision themselves as future technologists by connecting them to Per Scholas Baltimore graduates, our LinkedIn alumni group and, of course, uploading their new headshots.

In what ways does the virtual mock interview program contribute to learners’ skill development, confidence-building and overall professional growth?

In tandem with new headshots and a well-curated LinkedIn page, in-person and virtual mock interviews are a learning opportunity for Per Scholas Baltimore attendees. In mock interviews, our learners develop interview strategies, enhance communication skills and practice answering challenging questions. We believe that it helps to ease some of the nerves that many of our learners might experience before a job interview. In 2023, we hosted mock interviews in partnership with Percent Pledge, who scouted hiring managers to meet one-on-one with our learners. The feedback that the learners received from the hiring managers was invaluable and it was clear to the Per Scholas Baltimore team that it boosted the confidence of our learners. The mock interviews created a feedback loop and enabled our learners to start building a networking pipeline.

Can you share a success story of an individual who has completed the training programs in 2022 or 2023?

LaLonnie Moseley, a former early childhood educator, found herself unemployed during the pandemic and sought a career change in the tech industry. She enrolled in Per Scholas Baltimore’s IT Support course and was deeply impressed by the comprehensive and supportive learning experience. Despite facing emergency surgery, LaLonnie received unwavering support from the program’s staff and successfully graduated on time with certifications.

“When I reached out to the administration telling them I didn’t think I could continue, the teachers both reached out to me and assured me that I would graduate,” LaLonnie shared. She often describes the staff as her second family and expresses gratitude for Per Scholas’ holistic support.

“I’m so grateful for Per Scholas’ holistic support,” she emphasized.

Currently, LaLonnie is working closely with Per Scholas to prepare for job interviews and eagerly anticipates securing her first tech job. Looking ahead, she aspires to open a childcare center that combines education with a focus on technical awareness.

Per Scholas Baltimore virtual mock interviews with Percent Pledge. (Courtesy screenshot)

What should prospective learners know about Per Scholas and the programs offered?

Per Scholas training is always 100% tuition-free. We are always accepting applications. The last day to apply for any course at Per Scholas Baltimore is typically three weeks before the course start date. For our End User Desktop and IT Support courses, no previous IT experience is required. Individuals should have a passion for tech. The last day to apply for these courses is two weeks before the course start date. For Per Scholas Baltimore, AWS re/Start and Software Engineering courses are mid-level courses. Applicants must have at least some technical experience, which can be quantified as work experience, participating in a previous IT course or having earned an industry-standard IT certification.

Learn about available courses

Companies: Per Scholas
Series: State of Local Tech Month 2023

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