Have tech skills, will work. Why IT jobs remain hot despite mass layoffs


Michael Gomez has something to celebrate.

Surrounded by classmates in the break room of the tech training school Per Scholas, clangs a bell, carrying out a tradition for whenever a student earns their A+ certification, a widely-recognized credential for entry-level technology jobs.

Gomez, 44, is leaving behind a career in retail and aiming to work in IT support.

"It's time to advance with the world, and IT is where it is," he says.

Michael Gomez, 44, has been working in retail as a personal shopper and stylist. After he graduates from his 15-week course at Per Scholas in Silver Spring, Md., he hopes to find a job in IT support.

Catie Dull/NPR

Gomez is right. Silicon Valley may have been rocked by massive layoffs for the last half-year, but tech jobs remain plentiful in the U.S., opening doors to stable and potentially lucrative careers even for those without college degrees.

There were 316,000 tech job openings just in March, according to CompTIA, the trade association that grants A+ certifications and regularly compiles data from the Labor Department and the analytics firm Lightcast.

Not all of the openings are at tech companies. An estimated 51% of technology workers are now employed by companies outside the tech industry.

"The truth is every company is a tech company," says Plinio Ayala, president, and CEO of Per Scholas, a nonprofit with 20 campuses across the U.S. that recruits students from communities of color underrepresented in tech.

"If you view technology as a function, then I am not as worried about all of the layoffs at Meta or Google, for example, because there are other companies across various sectors that still need this talent," he says.

In fact, Dana Peterson, chief economist at The Conference Board, cites predictions of tech labor shortages over the next decade, as new technologies come online and more jobs become automated.

"Certainly over the next ten years there's going to be strong demand," she says. "It's just that in the very short run, there's just less demand for tech ... and that's why these companies are right-sizing their labor forces."

The students at Per Scholas remain unfazed by the bad news coming out of Silicon Valley.

Johntel Brandy, 38, works as a gate agent for American Airlines. She's hoping to transition to a tech job with the airline after she finishes her IT support training at Per Scholas in Silver Spring, Md.

Catie Dull/NPR

"You can't go anywhere without technology. You can't use your phone," says Per Scholas student Johntel Brandy, 38. "Everything needs technology, so there will always be growth in this field."

Her classmates agree.

"We have technology that's integrated into everything we do," says Gomez. "So even every day seeing layoff, layoff, layoff, I've been studying, studying."

While workforce training programs can be a mixed bag, Per Scholas has proven to be highly effective at placing graduates, in part because the organization partners with employers large and small, Ayala says.

More than 80% of graduates find full-time work within a year, in IT support, cybersecurity, app development, and Java development, among other roles. They've landed at companies like Deloitte & Touche, JPMorgan Chase, Capital One, and TEKsystems.

"They're good-paying jobs. They move individuals into middle-skill, middle-wage, middle class," Ayala says.

Students pay nothing for the 15-week boot camp-style courses. Funding comes from public and private grants and from companies who work with Per Scholas to develop customized training.

At its 20 campuses across the U.S., Per Scholas recruits students from communities of color underrepresented in tech for its boot camp style courses.

Catie Dull/NPR

After finishing her course, Brandy hopes to stay with her current employer, American Airlines. Having worked as a gate agent for seven years, she's now eyeing an IT support role with the airline.

"It's way better to pay. It's basically three times more than what I'm making now," she says.

Ayala says that the pay jump is typical for Per Scholas graduates, many of whom come from the service sector.

Elizabeth Mabrey, 23, has been working at CVS, and before that at Barnes and Noble.

"When you think about most retail jobs, a lot of times they pay you based off of [a] high school-level education," she says. "Even if you did get more education, that's generally where they stop."

Mabrey had recently been enrolled in community college, studying art. But realizing that many creative jobs, including in graphic design, are threatened by technology and specifically artificial intelligence, she designed to change plans.

"I want to make sure I have security. And IT is definitely a secure place to go," she says.

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