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In 1995, Per Scholas recognised that technology was a thriving industry, but not always an equal one. Social divisions within the inner cities of America meant not everyone had the chance to learn relevant skills.

Since then, Per Scholas has evolved from providing residents of the South Bronx with computer equipment, to providing thousands of people from often overlooked communities with modern tech skills, helping them fulfil their potential and aiming to close the “digital divide”.

With Barclays support, Per Scholas has helped its training programme graduates break into the competitive tech industry, attain better salaries and achieve economic mobility for themselves and their families. However, there is still a long way to go, as the Coronavirus pandemic imposes challenges to delivering Per Scholas’ training programmes, while laying bare the widespread social inequality they aim to address.

Shifting to virtual programming

Pandemic related stay-at-home orders in states where Per Scholas operates training centres required the programmes to shift to remote delivery, the cost of which can be prohibitive. Some Per Scholas students didn’t have access to a laptop or internet connection.In order to address this situation, Barclays provided additional funding for Per Scholas to be able to support students facing significant financial challenges as the result of the pandemic.

But the challenges are greater than just financial. Barclays employees often volunteer in-person with Per Scholas, helping prepare students for interviews or serving as mentors. With face-to-face programming suspended, Per Scholas shifted these critical activities online as well with Barclays as a key partner in that transition. Since lockdown began, over 80 Barclays colleagues including senior staff have stepped up to lend support by holding mock interviews and mentoring via video conference.

Barclays professionals have been closely involved with Per Scholas as volunteers, helping to bolster the students’ career preparedness. Events like mock interviews offer great exposure to a corporate interview setting, so it can be an invaluable experience.
Peter Hasslund, Managing Director, Barclays

Addressing the digital divide

The economic and health fallout from COVID-19 is falling disproportionately on minorities, highlighting the ongoing inequality these groups face. From Per Scholas’ perspective, the ‘digital divide’ it seeks to address is still very much there.

What really motivates me is addressing social inequality – so much of this is about providing opportunities to communities that don’t have them. It’s never been more important to help address that inequality by giving people the opportunity and resources to change their lives for the better.
Plinio Ayala, President & CEO, Per Scholas

Per Scholas’ training programmes increase access and enabling social mobility for often overlooked communities by opening doors to jobs in technology. Programme graduates are often given a significant boost in their chosen profession, from being hired by a partner company like Barclays to feeling empowered to start their own businesses. The norm is for graduates to enter the Per Scholas programme earning $10,000 per year – well below the US national average salary – and end up quadrupling their income post-graduation.

And according to Mark Thain, from the Barclays Citizenship team, addressing systemic social and racial inequality benefits companies too. “It gives corporations from all over the world the chance to find diverse talent that they wouldn’t usually have access to through traditional channels. Today’s businesses need to reach further than the top schools.”

Per Scholas is preparing for what may come in a post-pandemic future, including possibly expanding into new markets with support from partners like Barclays. As long as social inequality exists, there will be a vital role for Per Scholas to play in helping bridge the gap in equality of economic access and opportunity.

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