Skill-building Is Only One Piece of the Puzzle in Tech-Training Program NPower

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Photos by James Orthmann

Students involved with NPower train to hone tech skills for social good, and about 80 percent of them go on to get full-time jobs, making an average of $16.43 per hour according to the nonprofit organization.

Stephon Stephens didn’t think he would get in.

At 21, he was used to applying to jobs and programs that wouldn’t look past some trouble he got into when he was younger. “It’s hard to move forward when you have a piece of paper saying you’re a criminal,” he said.

When Stephens disclosed his criminal record to NPower, a program that trains young adults from underserved communities and military veterans for careers in technology, he expected another rejection.

Instead, he said, NPower made him feel supported and motivated to succeed, offering the kind of support that the recent report “Turning Points” found is crucial to the success of workforce-development programs.

NPower’s goal is to both fill a skills gap in the technology sector and create a more diverse digital economy. The organization recently received a Youth Opportunity Fund grant for its newest site in New Jersey, the only site where young adults and veterans attend classes at the same location.

It’s not just skill-building

Participants in NPower are quick to agree on one thing: The program is intense. In 22 weeks, Tech Fundamentals students get an individual plan, crash courses in technology basics, a paid internship in the field and ongoing career support.

Before students start, they meet with a guidance specialist who assesses their skills, not just professionally or technically, but emotionally. Staff and students together develop a plan to best meet the student’s needs.

Patrick Cohen, NPower’s vice president of strategic partnerships, said building students’ confidence and teaching them time management and how to dress are just as important as teaching them technical skills.

Stephon Steven, NPower-Jersey City, was honored student of the month in March.

For the first 15 weeks of the program, students show up 2 to 6 p.m. every weekday to learn the basics of technology. Prior to enrolling, some students’ experience extends only as far as helping their grandparents turn on the computer.

The program is free to students. NPower provides transportation vouchers, and staff check in with students regularly. Staff members also work to place students in paid internships at companies like UPS and TD Ameritrade.

About 80 percent of students get full-time jobs, making an average of $16.43 per hour. Some opt to specialize, moving into NPower’s courses in cybersecurity or coding before hitting the job market.

A replacement for college?

Posha Sheffield, 24, was at a local community college when she decided to quit and wait tables. She said she felt her teachers didn’t really care about the students.

Sheffield’s experience at NPower has been different.
Only a few weeks in, she says she can tell the staff care
about them.

“It’s not just about our career,” Sheffield said about working with her guidance specialist. “She helps me all the time with things outside the program.”

Not only does Sheffield feel motivated in her courses, her time at NPower inspired her to reapply to college. She plans to re-enroll in college in the fall of 2017.

Joab Arzua, 21, said he felt lost on a large college campus, in need of the kind of one-on-one support NPower offers. “Without this program,” he said, “I wouldn’t like where I would be.”

Stephens agreed. He spent some time in college too, but said NPower is a better fit. “These opportunities don’t come to our community that often,” he said.

For resources, information, and materials on career & technology education, go to the OST Hub.

Eva Harder is a writer and editor at America’s Promise Alliance, the nation’s largest network dedicated to improving the lives of children and youth. Follow her on Twitter @HarderNews.

This story is part of a series on the innovative ways some of the 24 2016 Youth Opportunity Fund community partners, supported by America’s Promise Alliance and the Citi Foundation, work to support low-income young adults’ path to career success.

The Youth Opportunity Fund is part of the Citi Foundation’s Pathways to Progress, which launched in 2014 with a $50 million, three-year investment that helped more than 100,000 young people, ages 16 to 24, across 10 cities to become career-ready through first jobs, internships and leadership and entrepreneurship training.

In February, the Citi Foundation announced a global expansion of the Pathways to Progress initiative with a $100 million, three-year investment to serve 500,000 young people.