Cincy's Got Tech Talent: from education to employment

In a few weeks, a class full of students will begin the eight-week course that could change their lives. They are the future Per Scholas graduates and their training will prepare them for new career in the growing field of information technology.

Founded in 2013, Per Scholas offers free IT training courses for non-traditional students. The program attracts adults who are either looking for a career change and need a new set of skills or who are underemployed and need a way up and out of their current job. Programs run full-time for two to three months and students walk away with technical certification and a host of career readiness skills.

The program that begins on October 8 is the Quality Assurance (QA) Software Testing program. Students will learn the theory behind software testing and how to navigate complex website, apps, and software. They’ll learn to test for usability and errors. Then, thanks to a partnership between nonprofit Per Scholas and local B Corp Thrive Urban Impact Sourcing, many students will graduate right into careers in the IT industry.


Working for Thrive
The Per Scholas program is intense and, for some of the graduates, it is their first entrée into higher education and the professional world. Rather than walking into careers with half-baked skills, some can benefit from another year or two in paid training. This is where nonprofit Thrive Urban Impact Sourcing enters the picture, offering a stop in-between their education and their long-term career.

Those hired on by Thrive step into a job as an analyst, working directly for Thrive’s clients in and around Cincinnati. These clients — like Crossroads Church, for example — rely on the analysts to be an extra set of eyes for their complicated websites and web-based apps. The analysts test the software, working through any kinks that might pass through the cursory design process.

“They are really providing a service from day one,” reports Elena Teran from Thrive.

Teran is the talent engagement manager at Thrive Cincinnati. Her job is to help recent grads build their professional skills before securing a long-term career. While some have already gained experience in a professional space, some have not. She helps prepare them.

Thrive has been a partner with Per Scholas’s QA program since 2016. To date, they have hired 52 graduates from the program. The relationship between Thrive and Per Scholas makes sense. Thrive’s mission is to grow the talent pool in Cincinnati and solve the problems of poverty; Per Scholas’s mission is “to open doors to transformative technology careers for individuals from often overlooked communities.” They are two parts of the same equation.

Analysts stay with Thrive anywhere between a year and two years. Every student is different. The goal, Teran says, is to keep a cycle of new and improving analysts coming in, being prepared to leave, and then getting hired out. They have the option of seeking employment on their own or receiving help from Thrive. Sometimes the client hires them directly.

Teran finds that the analysts they hire from Per Scholas are different from traditional graduates and job seekers.

“From my experience, the folks we’ve hired are really resourceful,” she says. “They are able to learn things quickly, figure things out without a step-by-step.”

She says that Per Scholas grads treat each other differently. They’ve worked hard to get where they are. They are a tight-knit community and don’t have the same cutthroat attitude so common in the IT world.

“Almost every person we’ve hired is very empathetic and they help each other out,” she says. “They’re in this together.”

Working up and out
Angela Bedford is a 2016 Per Scholas grad and recent Thrive alum. Six weeks into the Per Scholas program, she sat through a mock interview with Thrive. She was extended a formal offer a week later, contingent upon her graduation. Then, she started her position as an analyst with Thrive 10 days after graduation.

Her first project was working with the client CareSource. Her second assignment was with EyeMed (Luxottica). She says these jobs were challenging, different than the work she’d done during her training. She took notes and caught on quickly. Her hard work paid off: She left Thrive to take a job as a contractor with Anthem. She is now working as an IT quality control analyst.

Bedford says that, when she enrolled at Per Scholas, her resume was mostly customer service and cooking experience. Per Scholas gave her more impressive, employable skills.

“Per Scholas made a huge difference in both my personal and professional life,” she says. “Coming out of the program, I immediately had seven technical skills. I am never asked if I can do a task; I am given a task/project and I am to follow through to completion. That was amazing to me.”

Bedford has found great success after graduating from Per Scholas. She is now only a few credits short of receiving her Bachelor’s Degree, and she’s working toward a Scrum Master Certification at a local technical school. She has plans to become a software engineer. She credits both Per Scholas and Thrive with giving her the skills and confidence to keep moving forward in her life and career. She has even encouraged her son to enroll in Per Scholas training.

“Per Scholas is a great place for anyone to go no matter your age or education level,” she says. “[and] working at Thrive has made me change the way I feel about work now, not everyone is out to take advantage of me. Thrive wants you to succeed and they give you the tools to make that happen.”

“Personally,” she adds, “I feel better about myself; I am able to pay my bills now. I can afford to get full tanks of gas now whenever I want. I went from making $13 an hour to $28. Per Scholas has really lifted me up in so many ways.”

Eight weeks could change everything
Lynn Beirl is an Education and Training Specialist for Thrive Impact Sourcing. She teaches QA Software Testing classes at Per Scholas. The eight-week program, she says, covers a lot of bases. It involves lectures, reading assignments, individual practice, group activities, quizzes, and testing. There are workshops covering professional and personal skills like leadership and financial sense. The seventh week is a practicum in software testing. The last few weeks include mock interviews and meeting potential employers.

Beirl believes that what sets Per Scholas apart from more traditional training programs is threefold: “First of all, it's free to the students. Second, it is a focused, structured, interactive course that helps participants develop a comprehensive understanding and hands-on experience with software testing principles and tools. Third, it helps students connect with companies who are hiring software testers now or in the near future.”

In providing this QA software testing program, Per Scholas and Thrive Impact Sourcing have created a direct pipeline between one of the information technology industry’s growing and expanding niche job markets and those looking for a fulfilling career in IT.

Beirl explains, “Ensuring adequate software testing before changes are put into production is important in every company in every industry. And having significant software testing experience often opens doors to even better opportunities for people.”

Per Scholas and Thrive Impact Sourcing are a perfect match and their partner program is making a huge difference in the lives of its graduates.


For those interested in enrolling
Per Scholas’s next QA Software Testing class begins on January 14, 2019 and enrollment is open now. Those interested can apply online. Candidates must have the equivalent of a high school diploma or GED and be able to pass a 10th grade level literacy test. Interested students with questions about either requirement should contact Per Scholas staff. Through a partnership with Cincinnati Public Schools, Per Scholas will even facilitate GED testing for those who need it before enrolling. Classes take place at the Per Scholas offices inside the CityLink Center.

Read more articles by Liz McEwan.

Liz McEwan is a proud wife, mama, urbanite, musician and blogger. Follow her at The Walking Green and on twitter at @thewalkinggreen.
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