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By Rodney Brooks
Countless skilled trade jobs are sitting open, but they often require training that not everyone can afford. The “opportunity divide” keeps many people from reaching their full potential at a time when companies are struggling to find qualified employees.
Nonprofit training programs are working to change that equation, helping young, low-income adults train for promising, high-paying jobs in a variety of careers.
“You have programs like Year Up stepping into this critical gap to rescue young people with potential who have fallen through the gaps, to link them to not only a skill but a career that will transform their lives,” says Maya Rockymoore Cummings, the founder and CEO of Global Policy Solutions and a former Year Up board of directors member. “High schools are not providing the kind of hands-on training and hard and soft skills development that these programs are.”
Year Up: One-Year Training in 5 Career Tracks
During Year Up’s one-year training program, designed for people ages 18 to 26 with a high school degree or GED, people learn the skills hiring companies need and make all-important professional connections that give them a foot in the door. After graduation, all qualified students are placed in a six-month internship with a major company.
Training is offered in these career tracks (availability varies by location):
- Information technology
- Financial operations
- Sales and customer support
- Business operations
- Software development and support
A professional skills program that teaches skills such as business communication and time management is also available.
How can the students afford it? The program costs nothing, and in fact, students earn a stipend to help offset basic expenses during their training and internship.
Year Up, which has campuses across the United States, is staffed with coaches, mentors and even social workers to support its students. According to the nonprofit, 90% of grads are either employed in the profession they studied or in school within four months.
Per Scholas: Full-time IT training
Per Scholas, with locations in 12 states, focuses on helping people from often-overlooked communities carve out a career in information technology. According to the organization’s website, 90% of their students are people of color and a third are women. The free, full-time courses last 10, 12 or 15 weeks and are designed around the IT skills employers say they need. Training paths include:
- Network support
- Application developer
- Software engineer
After students graduate, Per Scholas matches them with employers; 80% of them land jobs. One graduate, Darius Jones, was featured in The New York Times earlier this year. He could not afford the subway ride to get to his first training class in Bronx, New York, in 2014 and arrived soaking wet after walking there in the rain. He went on to become an IT analyst at the luxury fashion brand Christian Louboutin.
NPower: Part-Time Tech Skills Training
NPower offers free IT training in select cities. Its mission: to move people from poverty to the middle class through tech skills training and quality job placement. Part-time courses on topics such as cloud computing, cybersecurity and coding last 16 weeks and include an opportunity to participate in a seven-week paid internship or project-based learning experience.
Kim Mitchell, vice president for program development and operations, says NPower teaches not only technical skills but also the skills students will need to succeed in a business environment. After students graduate, NPower counselors help them surmount obstacles such as finding housing, mental health and medical services and childcare — “all the things that can get in the way of their progress,” says Mitchell.
Cortney Grant, 26, said she was drifting from job to job before she attended NPower. She now works as a client service technician at CBS. Daney Forbes, 26, now works as an IT business analyst at Citi. “No one crafts you for a career the way that programs like this do,” says Forbes.
Generation USA: Customer Service Training and More
Generation USA offers programs in select cities that train people for jobs in a variety of fields including digital marketing, computer support, customer service and medical administration. Programs in construction and hospitality are planned. Courses are either full time or part time and most run between five and 20 weeks.
Preparing Insecure Students For Success
“We know a lot of successful people are not college educated,” says NPower’s Mitchell. “The programs today are important because we have a huge demand for tech talent in this country.”
They’re important also because they serve students who may not otherwise get much of a chance at a meaningful career.
“They take people who are insecure and train them to be highly successful,” says Rockeymoore Cummings. “They’re transformed into confident, assertive, young people who can hold their own. They can engage you in networking or small talk. They look you directly in the eye. Incredibly, [they] are clearly prepared for all of the rigors, both professional and social, of our modern-day labor market.”
Editor’s note: Classes mentioned may be online-only during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rodney Brooks writes about retirement and personal finance issues. His work has appeared in U.S. News & World Report, The Washington Post, USA TODAY, National Geographic, Next Avenue and Black Enterprise magazine.