Local nonprofit prepares unemployed, underemployed for IT careers

Local News

A nonprofit program in Columbus is helping train people for jobs in the technology field, and with additional grant money from Franklin County, it will now have a chance to expand its services.

Per Scholas, originally founded in the Bronx in 1995, has been operating in Columbus since 2012.

The 36 students currently enrolled in either 10-week or 15-week programs at the school are earning industry-recognized credentials to land jobs in the tech industry.

“To gain access to this training, you have to be unemployed or underemployed, and have a high school diploma or a GED at least, so that we can layer on top of your education these credentials that make you relevant in the job market today,” said Toni Cunningham, the managing director of Per Scholas Columbus.

The program is intense, according to Cunningham, but for students who commit to it, the results can be huge.

“We have the ability to change the trajectory of someone’s life in a matter of weeks,” Cunningham said.

Students learn both soft skills and technology skills and, at the end of the program, they can graduate with either one or two industry-recognized credentials, CompTIA certifications. The A+ credential alone requires 10 weeks in the program, while the A+ and Network+ credentials require 15 weeks total.

Rosalind Phipps said she spent 20 years working in the corporate world of banking and was ready for something new when she began looking into programs like Per Scholas.

“I had always wanted to be in the technology field but I’d never had the finances to do that,” Phipps said.

Phipps graduated February 1 from Per Scholas with certification at no cost to her that she hopes will enable her to find a job in her chosen field, cybersecurity.

“I was so thrilled. I really didn’t believe it at first,” Phipps said of the program, which is funded by organizations and serves students at no cost. “I had to ask them a couple of times, ‘Are you sure we don’t have anything to pay, as far as books or anything?'”

Cunningham said the program’s job placement rate locally has been higher than 80 percent for the past few years.

“Typically, with the A+ and Network+, you can land positions anywhere from IT help desk, IT support, field technician,” Cunningham said. “We know how important those are because if you’ve got a blank screen and your computer doesn’t work, and you want to call someone, you would call one of my students.”

Per Scholas Columbus is funded by a number of organizations, Cunningham said, including the United Way, The Columbus Foundation, JPMorgan Chase, the city of Columbus and Franklin County.

This week, the Franklin County Board of Commissioners approved an additional $200,000 grant to continue training and placing 100 additional people into jobs through Per Scholas over the next two years at a wage of at least $15 per hour.

It had previously approved a $300,000 grant in July 2016 to train and place 150 county residents receiving public assistance into IT employment over three years, earning at least $13.69 per hour.

The new grant, according to the commissioners, is a “pay-for-performance” agreement, under which Per Scholas will receive $1,000 once a trainee has been hired at the specified wage and another $1,000 once the trainee reaches 90 days of employment.

Rosalind Phipps is now among more than 600 other graduates of the program from nearly 30 classes since 2012.

Cunningham said graduates typically land in entry-level positions and sometimes mid-level positions, making $30,000 to $35,000 a year to start.

The program also gives its graduates job placement assistance and works with them to decide whether they want to acquire additional certifications or even a college degree.

The program currently operates at nine sites across the country, including one in Columbus and one in Cincinnati.

Per Scholas eventually hopes to expand in Columbus to serve a total of 250 students per year.

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