Closing The Skills Gap: NPower Puts Education To Work With Technology, Cybersecurity Training For Veterans, Underserved Communities

Like many 20-year-olds, Christopher Pichardo didn't quite know what he wanted to do with his life or career. Living in Queens, N.Y., he said he was interested in technology but didn't think it was something he could turn into a career.

"I didn’t really have any career goals or clear career path. I always had a vested interest in technology, but I never thought I could ever do anything with it," Pichardo told CRN.

Now, just a few years later, Pichardo is a full-time employee at Morgan Stanley, working in the security operations center as part of the team that manages the bank's global security infrastructure.

[Related: Code Red: It's Time To Sound The Alarm On The Security Talent Shortage]

Sponsored post

Pichardo landed that prestigious job through an organization called NPower, which trains veterans and individuals from underserved communities to prepare them for a career in technology. The nonprofit, based in Brooklyn, N.Y., and with locations around the country, offers accelerated programs in core technology and cybersecurity.

The programs include coursework, internships at major banks and corporations, and site visits and speakers from some of the top technology companies in the market. Students also graduate with technology certifications, including the CompTIA A+ certification for Tech Fundamentals and the CompTIA Security+, Network+ and Linux+ certifications for the cybersecurity program.

In the past two years, NPower has placed more than 1,800 students in technology jobs, with plans to train 15,000 students by 2022. More than 80 percent of graduates are employed or pursuing further education within a year, according to the organization.

NPower Vice President of Marketing Binta Joseph told CRN that many of the students are single parents or the first generation in their family to go to college. NPower provides students with a stipend during the program so they can fully devote themselves to developing their skills, she said. NPower also provides "soft training" skills, including resume building, interviewing, networking and more.

Many students work $10- to $12-an-hour jobs without a career path, Joseph said, but after leaving NPower can land jobs with salaries between $50,000 and $80,000 a year.

Some estimates have put the technology skills gap north of 1 million unfilled positions, a number that is only expected to rise. Solution providers and vendors alike have said they are constantly challenged to find enough employees to fill open positions.

At a fundraising event for NPower Wednesday, Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins Robbins was honored for his efforts around promoting diversity and education initiatives at Cisco and in the technology community.

Cisco's Robbins said on stage that the skills gap around technology and – in particular -- around cybersecurity is real.

"All of us in the industry are struggling to find the talent," he said. That gap is only going to widen as more jobs across every industry become technology jobs, he said.

"Technology is permeating every job. We are going to need more and more and more [people]," he said. "Every job – whether it's a security job or working in a bank retail location or manufacturing or traditional retail – all of these things you will have to have a knowledge of technology and how technology works."

More than just skills, Robbins said increasing diversity is also important, and that is a key piece of what NPower brings to the table. "In Silicon Valley in particular, it's a major issue that we have to deal with," he said.

Robbins also praised the work NPower was doing to solve gaps in both the security skills shortage, as well provide a career path to those in underserved groups. Cisco has helped educate 7 million students and has committed to educating 2 million more, he said. "I think that this organization and this effort is tremendous. … We have always believed on a global basis that education in STEM and technology was important," he said.

For Pichardo, the introduction to the NPower program came through a mutual friend. He started the organization's Tech Fundamentals course in mid-2014 and after a few months of intense training landed his A+ certification, a two-month internship with Citibank, and ultimately a full-time help desk job.

After a year, Pichardo said he wanted the opportunity to grow further, and after receiving an email from NPower about the organization's cybersecurity training program, quit his job and enrolled. Three to four months and three certifications later, Pichardo accepted an internship and ultimately a full-time position at Morgan Stanley and is just about to hit his one-year anniversary.

The course was incredibly challenging – with four certification tests and chapters of textbooks to read every night after being in class from 9 to 5 – but Pichardo said it set him up for a career path with plenty of room to grow.

"I think joining the program is one of the best things you can do for yourself," he said. "Cybersecurity in general is very difficult to get into. … It's not easy to get your foot in the door.… NPower definitely offers a good opportunity in that. That’s the best thing you can ask for.… You are definitely guaranteed a shot if you can make something of it."