Finding underrepresented tech talent

Image courtesy Per Scholas

For company leaders, IT managers, and recruiters, finding tech talent is most likely top of your list. It can be hard to find tech talent, but there are great organizations that can help.

Per Scholas is a national nonprofit that advances economic equity by providing technology skills training to the traditionally underrepresented. With campuses already in Detroit, Cincinnati, Columbus, and northwest North Carolina, Per Scholas has announced it is expanding to the Cortex Innovation Community in St. Louis.

We spoke with Dr. Charlie Mackey, Jr., Per Scholas St. Louis Managing Director, and Sara Luciano, Vice President of Communications at Per Scholas about what the organization does.

Tell us about Per Scholas.

Mackey: We advance economic equity and provide opportunities through rigorous, tuition-free technology training. We prepare adults that are traditionally underrepresented in technology in the skills they need and the skills that employers are seeking for tech jobs today.

Our course offerings include cybersecurity, IT support, software engineering, just to name a few. Our graduates are going on to high-growth careers at a variety of organizations, from Fortune 500 companies like Google to innovative startups. In 2021 alone, we had nearly 20,000 tech careers launched by Per Scholas graduates.

Luciano: We got our start in the South Bronx, New York. We were initially focused on getting computers into the hands of children and individuals, to give them skills for a sustainable future. Our model has evolved over time. We started to scale and grow and open campuses in different cities because of the tech talent and skills gap.

You’ve taken an intentional approach to expanding in Flyover Country. Why is that?

Luciano: Per Scholas evaluates market research, the projection of the future of the workforce. We also work with our employer partners, learning where they’re hiring or where they’re locating talent.

What was the case with St. Louis?

Mackey: One of the things we looked at was CompTIA’s April jobs report. St. Louis ranked seventh in the nation for the most new tech job postings. And after talking with some local employers and partners, cybersecurity seemed to be on the forefront. So that helped the decision to make our first cohort there around cybersecurity. Also, the alignment made sense because the Global Center for Cybersecurity is also located at Cortex Innovation Community. We’ll be officially opening the campus around May 1, and the cybersecurity cohort will start on June 17. [Applications are now open for their initial cybersecurity cohort. They are accessible here. If you are a business leader interested in connecting about tech talent needs, you can email Charlie Mackey here.]

Per Scholas is not just a curriculum program, correct?

Mackey: Right. We offer a professional development aspect in which we help learners with resume building skills, interviewing skills, and helping navigate conflict or issues in the workplace. Even after graduation, we assist for about two years with anything they need assistance in—like changing careers or employers or, again, revamping their resume.

How will you recruit underrepresented people for your cohorts?

Mackey: We’ll take a lot of different approaches, but I try to meet people where they live. In St. Louis, this meant intentionally going north of the Delmar Divide, and reaching out to community members. We have partnered with some other organizations that do skilling and training as well so we’re really working together as a community. We want to reach out and meet people where they’re at, whether that’s at recruitment events or just talking at local events. I have the honor and privilege of leading our St. Louis efforts.