Do a search of the term “data breach” and you’ll get a sense of how vulnerable companies of all kinds are to attack. And with that vulnerability comes a need for cybersecurity experts, people with the knowledge and skills to help defend against those attacks. Unfortunately, there is an extreme shortage of workers qualified to fill those roles.
Here in Brooklyn, The New York Community Trust, the region’s community foundation, is funding two national nonprofits — Per Scholas and NPower — to close the gap. Both have training programs that they offer to unemployed and underemployed young adults from underserved communities free of charge.
Roderick Jenkins, Senior Program Officer at The Trust managing youth and workforce development, boils down why the work they do is so important. “This economy does not require young people to have a college diploma anymore,” he says. “You need certificates. You need specific training to move up and survive and excel in this economy. That’s just a simple fact. Colleges and high schools are not keeping pace with our economy.”
“Our philosophy is that we really look for trainings that are employer led and that meet the demands of the market,” says Abe Mendez, Per Scholas’s Deputy Managing Director for Newark and New York. “In terms of our cybersecurity training, for example, we partnered with employers like Barclays to help inform the curriculum.” He points out that there’s an immense need right now in cybersecurity with over 300,000 open jobs.
One of Per Scholas’s graduates now working for Barclays is Kevin White. As a member of the Compliance Technology global IT team, White supports Financial Crime and Anti-Money Laundering applications.
“I found out about the program at 3:00 a.m. internet browsing, looking up programs that were free for military veterans,” explains White. “I was in a transitional phase in my life. I was trying to find a mix of what was trending and what could offer me stability. I found Per Scholas’s website, did my research and signed up.”
Exactly what do professionals like White need to know to work in cybersecurity? Helen Kogan, Executive Director of NPower New York explains: Students learn “the topologies of networks and cloud architectures, international standards and best practices, and get hands-on experience with common tools used by information security professionals.” This allows them, she says, “to identify risks and threats, assess products for vulnerabilities, analyze malware, and properly escalate incidents before they become full-blown breaches.”
NPower is also trying to address what Kogan sees as a common problem in many workforce development programs — attracting and retaining young women, particularly young women of color. “We are concerned with the lack of interest many young women have to explore tech careers,” she says, “so we have been much more diligent on the recruitment end to use community partners and alumni to help us identify potential talent. ”
While cybersecurity is an integral part of both programs, it’s not all these nonprofits offer. Per Scholas students can choose from a range of tracks, from IT and cloud support training to web development. The training is rigorous with participants working 35 hours, 5 days a week, and all who participate get two years of help finding employment after they finish the program. Meanwhile, NPower’s signature offering is Tech Fundamentals, a course that provides 16 weeks of generalist technical training and a seven-week paid internship (with a living wage of $17.25/hour and after which many interns are asked to stay with the company).
In order to offer such valuable training, internship, and job opportunities, both organizations have developed employer partnerships, specifically in cybersecurity — Per Scholas with Barclays and NPower with Symantec. But also integral have been the grants both have received from The New York Community Trust.
The Trust is a grantmaking foundation dedicated to improving the lives of residents of New York City and its suburbs. It brings together individuals, families, foundations, and businesses to build a better community and support nonprofits that make a difference, letting donors establish funds that make gifts to the causes they care about in a broad range of areas, such as poverty, justice, LGBTQ issues, arts, and education.
It was grant money from The Trust that allowed Per Scholas to launch its Brooklyn location in the old Pfizer building in Williamsburg in 2015, a location that allowed them to offer cybersecurity training. They’ve since also expanded their South Bronx office to include cybersecurity. For NPower, The Trust’s support meant expanding its Brooklyn operations and adding a new location in downtown Brooklyn.
NPower and Per Scholas are just two of a broad portfolio of grantees that The Trust supports in its youth and workforce development efforts.
And they’re succeeding. Per Scholas has an 87.5% graduation rate for its NYC cybersecurity track with 100 out of 130 graduates being placed into jobs. And the salaries of their graduates have seen an increase of 125%. NPower boasts a 100% graduation rate in its cybersecurity program.
Graduates of both programs value them so much, they often return to teach. Currently, all six instructors in NPower’s Tech Fundamentals classrooms are alumni and over half of Per Scholas’s instructors are alumni.
More telling is where most of the students at both programs come from — other students. “The vast majority of our students come to us via word of mouth,” Mendez says of Per Scholas, “which speaks really well to our program.”