Last month, U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao presented Focus: HOPE with an Exemplary Public Interest Contribution (EPIC) Award in recognition of its success in opening employment opportunities for minorities and women over the last 25 years.
Focus: HOPE is a civil and human rights organization and in 1999, it opened the Information Technologies Center (ITC). By partnering with technical learning organizations such as the Cisco Networking Academy, ITC has to date graduated more than 700 students into IT jobs in PC technology and network, desktop and server administration. Of these students, 98 percent were minorities and 30 percent were women, according to Focus: HOPE.
Linda Hanks, ITC manager, explained why Focus: HOPE made this push toward IT.
“In 1999, when we started this, there was a great demand for IT, and there were a lot of positions that used IT, but there weren’t a lot of minorities involved,” Hanks said. “We wanted to start not just bridging the digital divide but getting people involved in the creation and the direction of technology.”
ITC faces different challenges now than it did in the days of the dot-com boom, Hanks said.
“Since ’99, IT has had its peaks and valleys, and so when you’re in a valley like after 2000 (and into) 2001, when a lot of companies were not upgrading their PCs or applications on their PCs because they spent all their budget on Y2K, there were difficulties just because there was less demand,” Hanks said.
Kathy Moran, ITC manager of communication, explained how the program survives such downturns in the market.
“Even though there have been peaks and valleys in the employment area in IT, employers tend to keep coming back to us because our curriculum contains a lot of work on communication skills, developing good work habits and work ethics,” Moran said. “We concentrate on producing a well-rounded graduate.”
Hanks said the largest challenge ITC now faces is addressing its students’ transportation issues.
“In IT now, you have to be mobile if you’re working for an IT provider that requires you go to multiple employers,” she said.