Tech Training Program Reaches Out to ‘Opportunity Youth’

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NPower

A grant from America's Promise Alliance and the Citi Foundation is helping the nonprofit NPower expand its free tech training program for underserved youth. Graduates of the program, shown above, receive an information technology certificate and are qualified for jobs, including phone tech support.

What if young adults without jobs could get free training in a tech career? What if they were provided with mentors and job-hunting support — all for free?

That’s the vision of NPower, a nonprofit that offers these services in New York, San Francisco, Toronto, Baltimore and Dallas.

The program recently expanded into Jersey City, New Jersey, with the help of a grant through America’s Promise Alliance and Citi Foundation. Nearly 40 percent of the Jersey City population is between the ages of 18 and 24, according to Npower. Poverty and unemployment are high in parts of town. Yet many Fortune 500 companies are also located in the city.

The organization expects to use its grant to reach 300 low-income youth by offering a 22-week program that trains almost 50 young adults ages 18 to 24. It also will partner with local corporations to reach about 250 high school students with career information and mentoring.

[Related: In New Hampshire, Kids Add to Their Education by Leaving School]

Across the United States, one in seven young people ages 16 to 24 is neither in school nor in a job, according the 2015 Opportunity Index, a report by the Social Science Research Council and the nonprofit Opportunity Nation coalition of organizations.

These 5.5 million young people — often termed “opportunity youth” —  are falling behind, according to the report. They don’t have connections to people, institutions or experience that can help them gain skills and income.

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NPower offers both training and connection.

Its course involves 15 weeks of classroom work and a seven-week internship, said Bea Tassot, NPower’s New Jersey regional director.

Upon completion of the course, students receive a computer technician certification known as CompTIA A+, Tassot said.

Many of the program’s graduates go on to work tech phone support jobs, often in the banking industry, Tassot said.

The New Jersey class began in December, enrolling 23 students, of whom 16 graduated. A second class of 23 young adults began in August.

Students also learn soft skills including interviewing and resume-writing, Tassot said. They take site visits to corporations, and speakers also come to the class.

The organization helps students in additional ways, such as providing vouchers for public transportation.

Students may get hired by companies where they’ve interned, Tassot said.

“Most of them, they’re really dreaming of a job in IT,” she said.

NPower will also work with four high schools in Newark, New Jersey, and four in Jersey City, said Mary Ellen Sullivan, director of NPower’s Community Corps.

Although high school students are exposed to STEM and become interested, “they don’t have an opportunity to pose questions to people in the field,” Sullivan said.

They haven’t had a chance to visit professional work settings and don’t fully understand what it takes to work there, she said.

NPower will bring speakers to the schools, take students to visit workplaces and hold mock interviews.

“It’s an opportunity [for students] to learn about tech jobs and career paths,” Sullivan said, and to interact with information technology professionals.

When students go to a site, talk to professionals and see people like themselves working there — it can really motivate them, she said.

NPower also provides free classes for veterans of various ages.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON CAREER & TECHNOLOGY EDUCATION: Youth Today Research, Resources and Webinar Hub.

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Tech Training Program Reaches Out to ‘Opportunity Youth’