D.C. Youth Accomplish Their High-Tech Dreams

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A reprint from Howard University’s Flagship Newsletter Spring 2015 Edition OIC DC

A new technology training program in Washington, DC launched by the Opportunities Industrialization Center of DC (OIC/DC), the Howard University Center for Urban Progress (HUCUP), and the D.C. Department of Employment Services (DOES), is turning the lives of local youth around by providing them access to new technology jobs, as evidenced by the success stories of participants in the Youth Tech A+ Certification Program.

 

The 28-week Youth Tech program consists of 3 phrases. In Phase One, which is 12 weeks, students learn the fundamentals of the computer technology, installation, and configuration of PC operating systems, laptops, and related hardware and basic networking, as well as the skills required for configuration mobile operating systems. Students are required to take and pass the national certification exam for A+ computer repair given by CompTIA before going to Phase Two. In Phase Two, participants attend work readiness classes and employability training provided by DOES. And in Phase Three, they complete a 12-week internship at Howard University or a private sector IT company (or another higher education institution or employer in the local area) to receive practical on-the-job-training to expand their IT skills, After Phase Three, students are placed into full-time unsubsidized jobs. The ultimate goal of the program is to provide training and skills development to out-of-school District youth ages 18 to 24 and to enable them to obtain CompTIA A+ 901- 902 certification and lucrative full-time employment in the IT industry.

 

This technology workforce development program employs LearnKey’s nationally recognized, effective web-based, self-paced, and hands-on curriculum on all topics related to the fundamentals of computer technology, networking connectivity, and network administration as well as email. The training is provided at the HU Center for Urban Progress’s workforce development training center in the Reeves Building in a state of the art computer-based training classroom facility with 25 workstations and office space for program staff and administrators.

 

Youth participants in the OIC program receive financial stipends during the 28-week program, with the amounts increasing in value from the 12-week occupational training module to the work readiness training phase and internships.  Students are required to participate for up to 30 hours a week over 5 days throughout the course of the program. To prepare them for the real world of employment, participants’ stipends are cut if they do not show up for project activities on time. They are also required to submit leave requests if circumstances arise that necessitate them to be absent or take time off.

 

To qualify, program participants must be over 18 years of age, be referred and deemed eligible by DOES, have a high school diploma or GED, and test on CASAS at 9th grade level in reading and

math. To date, 90% of the graduates of the program have lived in Wards 7 and 8. In addition to the A+ curriculum and hands on training, program participants are exposed to IT professionals who make presentations as guest speakers as well as to program graduates who return to describe their professional successes and how the OIC program improved their personal and professional

development. Participants are also provided one-on-one counseling and job mentoring.

When they were asked to identify the factors that contributed to their successful completion of the program, participants described the experience as “all-in-one instruction…because [Youth Tech Director] Mr. Spencer Washington made sure we were studying. They encouraged us and asked for 100%.” Participants also stated that Mr. Washington and other OIC staff made sure they showed up every day and helped instill the discipline needed to ultimately sustain full-time employment. A frequent comment is that the program perpetuated a “family environment” because administrators regularly told youth they could succeed. Recent Youth Tech graduate Brice Thomas* also says she appreciated having the flexibility to complete the coursework at her own pace.

Internships are another feature that program participants say contributes a lot of value to their OIC experience as well as their future possibilities. Mark Miller said he never envisioned that he would be working at Howard University. He calls the HU connection “a huge step” for him, mainly because after he completed his internship in the campus iLab, he was offered full-time employment in the University’s Enterprise Technology Services Division in November 2014. Miller noted working on Howard’s campus has given him a different perspective on higher education, especially because after one year of full-time employment, he will qualify for free tuition at the University. He says he’s “blessed to be in this situation…to be able to pursue information technology and take his skills to the next level. Following the completion of his internship and the A+ certification program, Nick Braxton was employed at Howard University’s College of Medicine completing data analysis. Working full-time at Howard, Butler has become an expert on the use of Sharepoint and Laserfish for data entry and digitizing files. He says the OIC program changed his life, providing practical IT training, allowing him to compete for better jobs and become financially independent. Braxton says, “As soon as I completed OIC, I got a job; I got a car and I got my own place.”

Youth Tech graduate, Anthony Lewis, is considered another OIC success story, as he had a GED and no additional educational experience before completing the program in December 2013. He is currently a manager in Howard University’s iLab and continues to provide mentoring and tutoring to current OIC program participants to support their successful 901 and 902 A+ certification. Christian Lee, who completed his IT internship at Howard, was offered jobs at Cognosnte, a health IT company, and at Verizon, where he is currently employed as a Fiber Customer Service Analyst. Lee says the work experience at Howard helped him gain skills and made him more marketable for IT jobs.

Brice Thomas is one of two young women who have completed the OIC training program to date. Thomas says that before she heard about the program, she was unemployed and discouraged, having dropped out of a 4-year university and a community college. She remembers that OIC’s instructors and program administrators encouraged her to complete the training program because women are so underrepresented in the IT field.  While 57 percent of occupations in the workforce overall are held by women, only 25 percent of jobs in computing occupations are held by women. In addition, the Computing Research Association reports that fewer than 12% of Computer Science bachelor’s degrees were awarded to women at U.S. colleges and universities in 2010-11. Following her internship, Thomas was promoted from an entry-level position to a data manager, and she plans to complete an MBA program and become a successful network engineer, aspirations she says she could not have imagined before she completed the OIC A+ certification program in September 2014.

OIC/DC CEO and President, F. Alexis H. Roberson says program participants are encouraged to “think big… that nothing holds them back,” that “certification is just the beginning to opening doors for them.” When designing the program, Roberson says she was looking for a new model – something innovative to motivate District youth to believe in themselves and improve their employability, and she decided a partnership between OIC and Howard University was the best way to go. She describes the active collaboration between a community based organization and historically Black college/university (HBCU) as what makes OIC’s Youth Tech program unique and particularly effective, as Howard has provided a professional setting for the IT training and exposure to a college environment. Roberson says the HUCUP collaboration is successful because both organizations have extensive experience providing workforce training and investing in out-of-school youth.

Howard University Center for Urban Progress Executive, Director Rodney Green, who also chairs the Department of Economics, describes OIC’s A+ program as very synergistic with HUCUP’s mission – to address urban challenges through university-community partnerships. Green describes the Youth Tech initiative at the Reeves Center as, “a perfect partnership because OIC and HUCUP have been collaborating for years, and we have a lot of respect for the progress OIC has made helping to alleviate concentrations of unemployment in some of the hardest hit wards of the city, especially among African American youth.”

To date, OIC has also partnered with The Hope Project to continue the program with Howard University and the DC Department of Employment Services. If you are interested in enrolling into this program, please contact Mr. Edme Groguhe, Youth Tech Coordinator/Case Manager at 202-481-3504.

*Participants’ names have been changed to protect their privacy.