Rita Knaff worked in the airline industry for Com Air for about 19 years. When Com Air ceased operations in 2012, Rita found herself unemployed and did not know where to turn. Rita was taking a class at New Horizons in project management to compliment her business degree where she met a young lady named Hannah. Rita didn’t know it at the time, but her conversation with Hannah helped change her life and put her on a new path.
“Hannah and I began discussing our class schedules, our aspirations and what we wanted to do in the future, and she told me that she had just graduated from a program called Creating IT Futures (now known as Per Scholas), and within two weeks she already had a job offer,” said Knaff. “I had been unemployed for several months at the time, so she encouraged me to go online and apply. I went home that night and applied, and was almost immediately accepted.”
Per Scholas became a new United Way agency partner in 2016, and they are an organization that works with the underemployed and unemployed and puts them through a pretty intensive training program to help them get started with a new career in Information Technology.
“We have both a hardware track and a software track. Both are eight weeks, pretty intense, full-time curriculum and courses, and on the back end we have employer partners who have agreed to interview our candidates,” said Paul Cashen, Cincinnati managing director, Per Scholas. “We successfully place about 85-90% of the folks who go through one of our programs. We recently graduated a class in the software arena where we had 13 students and 12 were made an offer by our employment partner even before they graduated.”
Per Scholas focuses on clients at 250% or below the federal poverty line – unemployed or underemployed people from often overlooked communities – to serve the underserved by launching them into new careers. They work with approximately 90 different employer partners to place clients in jobs upon graduation. With approximately 2000 open IT positions in Greater Cincinnati, Per Scholas is not only helping train individuals for a new career path, but they are helping employers achieve their goals of filling positions with qualified candidates.
“United Way has been a great partner and has allowed us to grow our programs because you are funding the A+ IT Ready hardware program which allows us to use other funds to launch the QA software testing program, and also allowed us to serve more students,” said Cashen. “In 2015, we had 79 people we put through our programs and in 2016 we had 100 new students and 15 returning students, and we hope to continue to serve more. We think we’re a good part of the poverty solution.”
The first time Rita went through Per Scholas, she went through the hardware track. Three weeks after graduating, she was offered and accepted a job at Pomeroy in their project management office. In order to diversify her skill set and make her more valuable to employers, Rita went back to Per Scholas and went through the software class. She now works at Thrive Urban Impact Sourcing, one of the main employer partners of Per Scholas.
“The first class I went through I learned a valuable life lesson, and that is yes, I can do it,” said Knaff. “I knew that if I worked hard at it, studied, paid attention and applied myself, then I would succeed. Going back through the second time I had a lot of confidence and they encouraged me to do more and different things. I’ve learned that if you have skills in IT you’re more apt to get a job and have a career path that will someday get you out of poverty.”
United Way of Greater Cincinnati strives to create a region where everybody has an opportunity to thrive, and Rita is just one of the over 360,000 lives impacted by United Way annually in our community.
Rita also tries to “pay it forward” as much as she can. As Hannah helped turn her on to applying for Per Scholas, Rita similarly has encouraged others in need of a job to give the IT field and Per Scholas a try.
“The Per Scholas program works because they focus on making you successful,” said Knaff. They taught me all of the technical competencies I would need, work ethic, teamwork and collaboration skills, interviewing skills, and at the end had employers lined up waiting to interview and hire me.
“In the last five years my life has improved a lot. I feel more valuable because I have skills that are relatable today. I have more satisfaction with my work because I’m working in a field that I enjoy working in.”