SkillSmart Partner Spotlight featuring Per Scholas
SkillSmart is proud to partner with other organizations whose missions are similar to ours in creating a smarter, more competitive workforce.
Our partner Per Scholas is determined to break the cycle of poverty by providing technology education, access, training and job placement services for under/un-employed communities.
As part of our Partner Spotlight Series, we recently talked with Bridgette Gray, Per Scholas’ Managing Director for the National Capital Region, to get a deeper understanding of how they’re achieving their mission.
SkillSmart (SS): Before you joined Per Scholas, you worked with other organizations in similar spaces. Can you tell us what you’ve found to be a key takeaway or learning, what makes Per Scholas different?
Bridgette Gray (BG): The key takeaway is that Per Scholas has a model of training that provides rapid entry and/or re-entry into a high demand field of employment – IT jobs. Most organizations I’ve worked with before have a long process to get to an outcome, but Per Scholas has an 8-week training model and our students gain employment within 90 days post graduation. In fact, almost 90% of our graduates have found employment in the IT field.
SS: What is the greatest challenge to the success of programs like Per Scholas?
BG: Getting corporate investment and scaling the model. Another challenge is candidate recruitment – many of the people who apply have very low literacy rates and can’t get through our assessment. As a result, it’s a struggle to admit the 20 students we’d like to have per cohort. Finally, programs like ours are seen as competition to existing programs and community colleges, which impacts our ability to collaborate.
SS: Do you have any advice for other organizations or jurisdictions that are trying to establish training programs to meet the needs of their populations?
BG: Yes, collaboration and knowledge sharing are crucial.
SS: What do you think are the biggest challenges or opportunities facing the National Capital Region?
BG: There are many.
- HR departments and hiring managers are disconnected from the hard skills needed by their organizations and continue to produce cookie cutter position descriptions without thinking through the hard skills outside of a degree.
- Employers are not invested in training programs to help build out the talent needed.
- There’s no cross pollination of knowledge or information sharing across the entities preparing our workforce.
- Post-secondary institutions are not providing the hard skills needed to provide employers with viable talent pipelines. Workforce development organizations and post-secondary institutions are not playing well in the sandbox.
- There is a literacy challenge among many people that a lot of programs in this area serve. There’s also a huge digital divide, with people having no connection to or knowledge of relevant, successful and viable training opportunities.
- Too many underachieving workforce development programs continue to receive funding, but are not reaching measurable training and placement outcomes, i.e., livable wage careers, high-demand fields, increases in literacy rates, etc. As a result, employers are not able to get the talent they need.
- There’s a lack of collaboration between training programs. For example, we partner withYear Up, a similar organization that focuses on 18-24 year olds IT, providing the first step in training in-demand skills to its students. We provide the second step, which is credentialing and job placement. It’s a great partnership that we’ve yet to see impact our funding, we’ve found that it enhances it.
SS: How do you think SkillSmart can play a role in advancing the skills of our workforce to meet the demands of employers?
BG: I think tools like SkillSmart are what we need to address the many issues we’ve identified above. I think SkillSmart can replace HR hiring tools, such as Taleo, etc. with greater accuracy of identifying the skills candidates have while highlighting where they can improve their skills. In doing so, the workforce will become skilled and qualified, meeting the demands of employers.
To learn more about how we’ll be working with Per Scholas, read the announcement regarding our partnership.