‘Staying in your lane’ to grow

Tech trainer Per Scholas increasingly is working with other workforce programs as it looks to reach more learners. We talked with CEO Plinio Ayala about why.

Plinio Ayala has led Per Scholas for 20 years. The nonprofit tech training provider has earned lots of plaudits along the way for its no-cost, bootcamp-style training programs.

Per Scholas is on track to train 4,500 people this year. While that’s big for a sectoral training program, more opportunities are badly needed to help lower-income Americans break into good tech jobs.

Ayala recently spoke with Work Shift about how his organization is planning to accelerate its growth and go deeper in cities. Per Scholas isn’t going it alone, though, and is instead focused heavily on partnerships with community-based organizations. The exchange follows.

Can you give me a sense of how Per Scholas plans to go deeper in cities over the next few years, while also adding new communities?

A: Per Scholas is so proud to train diverse technologists in the skills they need to succeed in more than 20 cities across America. But we know the need for skilled technologists is  ever-expanding, as the tech revolution continues and our economy continues to rely on technology. 

Plinio Ayala

Early in 2021, Per Scholas developed a robust blended learning model that significantly increases the number of learners we can train at any given time. Under this model, instructors can simultaneously teach and engage with learners in multiple locations. In addition to enabling us to reach a wider geography, it also eliminates onerous commutes, making our instruction accessible to those for whom childcare, employment, or other obligations constrain their flexibility. Having piloted this “blended” training from our flagship Bronx campus, our outcomes remained strong while driving down our per-learner cost.

Armed with this lower-cost instructional approach, we worked to identify like-minded workforce development organizations that are trusted in their communities and have the capacity to become implementation partners in our Satellite Model. In leveraging the local community, philanthropic, and employment networks of these partners, we can make the best use of each entity’s relative expertise to effectively expand our positive impact with agility and efficiency.  

We have created partnerships with four partners in New York. I’m thrilled to share that for the first time in our organization’s history, we are now training individuals from all five boroughs and 41 districts across New York City. That expansion is just tremendous. It is our objective to offer this model in cities where we already operate, enabling us to go deeper and have far-reaching impact while eliminating barriers and increasing access.

In addition, it’s imperative that Per Scholas continue to work more closely with community-based organizations, especially in cities that we know would benefit from a proven, powerful technical skills training like ours. We’re constantly evaluating market data and working with America’s employers to identify the skills gap that exists in key geographies.

How will you work more closely with community-based organizations, and why?

A: Per Scholas has always partnered with community based organizations, but over the last several years we have developed a more intentional approach to working with like-minded workforce organizations who have effective employer-driven training, but not in technology. By partnering, we can then layer our IT training expertise on top. Our work across New York and our partnerships with ActivateWork in Denver and Goodwill Industries in Indianapolis are examples of effective, powerful community partnerships. We really value this approach in our growth for the future. 

Identifying and teaming up with the right community partner in any given region is key. We explore community-based organizations that are trusted, have a strong reputation, and align with Per Scholas values. We’re not about a handout, but a hand up. If we’re able to leverage existing outreach infrastructure, and existing support services—like child care, benefit navigation, legal services, and housing—our Per Scholas learners are better poised for success. 

I see three powerful outcomes as a result of a community partner approach: cost efficiencies, local trust and insights, and strengthening local economies.

Why do you think consolidation is needed in this space? And what sort of guardrails are needed for a good partnership?

A: There are so many workforce models across the country and often there is significant crossover in services being delivered. I’ve always believed in the “stay in your lane” approach. Per Scholas is best-in-class in technology skills training and connecting our graduates to life-changing careers in tech, and we won’t deviate from it. That is what we do best. However, we can leverage our 28 years of impact and work with organizations across the country with strong, innovative leaders who understand the value of complementary, meaningful, and enduring partnerships. 

To Per Scholas, the connection we have to America’s employers can’t be understated. With our finger on the pulse of the talent America’s employers need today—and being able to train up passionate, dedicated, diverse individuals in the skills they need to succeed, is transformational. 

Together, we can build a technology workforce as diverse as cities across America. 

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