Jobs Get Technical in New Harlem Training Program

By Lucy Pawle on Nov 15th, 2011

Kelvin Perez teaches students at the Technology Services Corps

Kelvin Perez teaches students at the Technology Services Corps. (Photo by Lucy Pawle)

The students at the Technology Services Corps program gaze at Kelvin Perez, their teacher for the next 22 weeks. “If you work hard, and you take everything we teach you on board, you can go far,” he says. “You can earn six-, even seven-figure salaries.” Excited whispers fill the classroom: Most of the 18 students come from low-income Manhattan neighborhoods where such salaries are a largely alien concept.

The program, launched last month in East Harlem, provides free IT training, mentoring and internships to students 18 to 25. The course prepares them for the A+ certification required for employment in the tech industry. The Corps aims to get all the students jobs, either with corporations or non-profits.

Brooklyn-based for the last six years, this represents the program’s entry to Harlem, an expansion funded largely by a $100,000 investment from Accenture. Perez sees the course as vital for creating opportunities in a neighborhood where unemployment typically runs double the city’s average rate, currently about 7.8 per cent, according to the city labor department.

“There’s a lot of disadvantages for kids in here. These programs are a way to even out the playing field,” Perez says.

His words strike a chord with Harlem native Raymond Flowers, 24. “I look at my family and they live paycheck to paycheck and I don’t want to live like that,” he says.

The Harlem classrooms occupy an elementary school’s third floor on 123rd Street and Second Avenue.  The drab rooms, broken projector and lack of textbooks belie the course’s track record. With an 85 per cent graduation rate from 26 classes over six years — each with about 20 students — Technology Services Corps can brag about transforming students’ lives.

“If you go to one of these graduations, I just stand there and cry because it’s so life-changing for these kids,” says Stephanie Cuskley, CEO of NPower, the non-profit that runs Technology Services Corps.

The Corps has schooled former criminals, parents, school dropouts, and many with complicated home lives. A permanent counselor is on staff, but the course’s success to date may stem from a lengthy and competitive application process, which requires references, a cover letter, a writing test and an interview.

“We screen them for certain qualities” says Program Director Patrick Cohen. He lists “willingness to learn, a good attitude, and commitment to our program” as the most important. He adds that 20 per cent of the course teaches professionalism, “life skills and how to conduct themselves,” and that the five-day-a-week, nine a.m. to one p.m. course is “a huge commitment.”

Schools, churches and other community organizations usually refer students but in Harlem, recruitment was not as easy. Fewer students were referred through the normal channels. “We were a little disappointed,” admits Cohen, who at one point even asked students to tell their families and friends to apply.

During orientation, Perez promised that the course could “put you guys in the position where you can break through the cycle of not feeling empowered or feeling that life is one dead-end street.”

Successful IT professionals play a role in that process. Accenture offers several of the five-week internships that all students take; other companies offering internships include the New York Times, investment bank UBS and accounting firm Deloitte.

In one lesson, Perez asks the students to find three jobs advertised on the Internet that might interest them, and to write cover letters. “If it makes six or seven figures a year I’ll make sure I’m interested in it,” jokes one student.

But a graduate with only the A+ certification stands little chance of earning six or seven figures. A more realistic salary is $50,000, for a job doing the basics – “small work,” says Paul Flaharty, regional vice president of Robert Half Technology, an IT recruiting agency. Those with strong Windows experience “may be able to find positions as a junior desktop support,” Flaharty adds.

Perez acknowledges that those aiming for top salaries would have to go on to college for further credentials. Alumnus Bleuberthol Scott, 27, suggests that the course should earn college credits “towards degrees that so many of us want to attain after we finish the program.”

However, IT is an expanding sector with an increasing demand for experts, and Cohen is confident the training will give the students skills for long-term employment. “It’s 2011 and IT drives the world and the economy, so the kids can pick the technology up quickly and add value to non-profits and companies,” he says.

Most graduates do get jobs, 70 per cent at non-profits and others with corporations. Scott uses the skills he learned “practically on an every day basis” as IT coordinator for the downtown literary center Poets House Inc.

Joshua Cortez scored a job at the online stock brokerage TD Ameritrade, where he interned during the course. “It’s the reason I have my job and a start to my career,” he says.

However, not all the students see their futures in IT. Michael Rogers-Thomas, 20, wants to work in fashion. “This is a stepping stone to helping me secure financial stability. That way I can go back to school and be independent,” he says.

Students seem to find the commitment worth making: Many had complained of a lack of such courses uptown. “I was so happy when NPower came to Harlem,” says Flowers.  “There’s not a lot of programs like this.”

1 Response for “Jobs Get Technical in New Harlem Training Program”

  1. RSA Online says:

    This is a great program and service.This is how we help also our community grow for better help those whose less fortunate to keep them from the streets and shy away themf rom trouble and give them education for them to be a better contributor citizen of their community and have a brighter future ahead also for their future children passing forward that hope and perseverance to also to do the same.Wow great concept and giving something that you can really make a life change for the better is the best service you can give to others..Hats off and More Power.

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