01/23/2013 09:28 am ET Updated Mar 25, 2013

An Impact Felt Far Beyond the Classroom

"Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamt of going to college. I put an immense amount of effort into schooling to remain in the top of my class. I wanted to become the first of my immediate family to attend college and graduate with a Bachelor's Degree. In June 2009, I graduated from high school and then attended college in August. Unfortunately, due to financial problems, I was unable to complete a second semester which was completely devastating. I refused to give up my college dream so in January of 2011, I enrolled in online courses at the University of Phoenix. I realized that it was not for me; I needed more of a hands-on experience in order to learn. I continued to work as a dietary aide until I finally came across something that could work for me. I heard about the ITWorks Program through a friend that attended himself, and it sounded like a program full of opportunities. I felt like it would open a lot of doors for me; although it is not exactly college, it is still focused in the career field that I love and a great attempt to better myself in life."

Emilia is a recent ITWorks graduate. She started the program last August a little shy and apprehensive, but finished confident and certified. She obtained both the Cisco IT Essentials and CompTIA A+ certifications and completed an internship at Cozen O'Conner.

ITWorks, a program of Tech Impact (formerly NPower Pennsylvania and NPower Delaware), is a free 16-week technology training program for unemployed and underemployed urban young adults, ages 18 to 25, which prepares them for an entry-level IT job and provides them with a pathway to a career in technology. Through the ITWorks program, the students get access to technical training, corporate class professional development sessions, access to some of the top minds in IT, earn a well-recognized certification in IT, and valuable experience inside a real IT department though an internship.

With challenges of raising kids, working underpaying, part-time jobs, staying out of trouble, getting out of trouble, or finding some direction, the ITWorks students are part of a much larger group. They are young adults, graduates of high school or possessing a GED, but stuck in low-paying jobs or looking for work. They are motivated, but not finding many opportunities open to them.

Several recent studies and surveys have found these documented problems high school graduates face:
  • Only 3 in 10 high school graduates are employed full time, compared to college graduates who are employed at nearly twice that rate.
  • The number of 18-24 year olds who are not in school, not employed full-time, and without a postsecondary degree is over 5.2 million, and Philadelphia ranks 5th in the total number of "disconnected" youth in the country.
  • Every year, each "disconnected" youth imposes an immediate taxpayer burden of $13,900 per year and an immediate social cost of $37,450 per year.
  • Despite high unemployment, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports there are over 3 million open jobs in the U.S. that employers are unable to fill with qualified workers.

Impacts of this program and their increased confidence and income are felt far beyond the youths and nonprofits immediately involved. ITWorks provides its students with an experience that will help improve their income potential for life and help them become self-sufficient.

"This program is not about employment statistics, this is about 13 people who are better off because of the investment of our community in them," said Delaware Governor Jack Markell at last year's first Delaware ITWorks graduation.

Graduates can potentially double their current annual salary after obtaining jobs in the IT field. Balancing their time, commitments, and priorities, the students are rising to meet the challenge. They are passing certification exams, nailing interviews, and working at leading corporations and local nonprofits. They are giving back to their families, to their communities, and to future ITWorks students.

Lila completed the ITWorks program and an internship at PricewaterhouseCoopers. She says of her experience: "I am a single parent and my son's life depends on my success. ITWorks offered me an opportunity to learn a skill along with a network of contacts which in turn has opened up other opportunities for success. Coming in as a person with little knowledge of configuring software or hardware, I now find myself wanting to learn more and more about technology. I now know that I can be a role model for my son and not just 'mom, the pizza girl'."