Ivan Alvarado wandered through his life, including through a number of jobs, for 15 years.
After completing his service in the U.S. Marine Corps in 2003, Alvarado struggled to find work that would make him happy and create a better situation for his family. Then a friend who was a fellow veteran told him about NPower ( Jersey City), a nonprofit organization that helps young adults, veterans and veterans’ spouses launch technology careers. He started in NPower’s Tech Fundamentals program in July 2018, secured a paid internship at Deloitte (Parsippany), and will soon start his IT career as a full-time employee at Deloitte in January 2019.
“I felt at home. I knew that I was meant to do this once I noticed I was excelling,” said Alvarado. “It took me a while to get comfortable with the routine NPower set up for us, but once I became comfortable with the process, I was off and running.”
In December, NPower New Jersey graduated 37 participants from its Fall 2018 Tech Fundamentals program. The cohorts boasts an 81 percent graduation rate and a 70 percent Black/Latinx enrollment. Moreover, 12 of the graduates are veterans. The class includes students from eight counties across the state.
Located on the campus of New Jersey City University (Jersey City), NPower New Jersey provides tuition-free technology training and certifications to veterans and veterans’ spouses, and to young job seekers (aged 18-25), offering an alternative fast track to a career in information technology. The rate of unemployment for veterans in New Jersey is more than twice the national average. New Jersey’s youth unemployment rate is higher than the national average, as well.
The six-month program includes 16 weeks of classroom instruction in the basics of information technology, and then the opportunity to apply those basics during a seven-week paid internship. At the end of the program, about 40 percent of the participants are usually hired full-time by the companies where they had done their internships. For the other 60 percent, NPower offers job-placement services.
There are eight NPower branches across six states in the U.S. (New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Texas, California and Missouri), in addition to its program in Canada. However, New Jersey’s branch is the only veteran-focused one on the East Coast.
“The veteran population is very talented, and I think they’re not always looked at in that way,” said Michael Rasmussen, the New Jersey program director. People don’t know the value that they can bring to an organization.” He believes that veterans, in particular, come with leadership experience, responsibility and integrity ‒ qualities that employers look for. But there is a disconnect.
“When they transition back into civilian life, they don’t know what’s next or how to approach that because their time in the military has been so regimented. NPower wants to invest in veterans, train them, get them placed in a career track and thank them for their service, as well,” he said.
One thing that most military vets share is a profound sense of being unappreciated, said Alvarado. He spent four years in the Marine Corps and returned after serving in Iraq. “For the time we spent overseas and in combat, to come back and feel unappreciated is vast, and it sucks,” he said. “Beside from being with my family, NPower was one of the first times since I’ve been out that I felt appreciated for my service that I gave to this country.”
NPower has partnerships with community organizations that work with young adult and veteran populations. These partnerships include recruitment efforts by these organizations for NPower’s fall and spring programs. Anna Perrotti, who started as the recruitment and admissions manager for NPower New Jersey in August, reaches out to veterans’ affairs reps and attends career fairs to recruit for the program. She has noticed an initial resistance from the individuals she’s spoken with.
Many veterans have become jaded because of their disappointment with programs they had been involved with in the past, so they are initially hesitant to consider joining NPower. “There are organizations that say they help vets, but then there’s a fee or it’s not as good as it sounds. A lot of people have told me, ‘We don’t trust people as much as we’d like to,’” Perrotti told NJTechweekly.com. To combat this, she emphasizes facts and transparency. “When I start explaining the program, it helps get rid of all that skepticism. Once people hear what we actually do, that mistrust goes away,” she said.
In order to be eligible, veterans must be at least 21 years old, with an honorable or general discharge; and the spouses must also meet an age requirement. Other participants must be 18-25 years old, with at least a high school diploma or GED, and be New Jersey residents who do not need a sponsorship to work. No formal education or experience is required.
“We have people that have a GED, master’s degrees; people who worked in tech; people who are Uber drivers. If you know how to navigate a laptop and you have that curiosity and interest, we will consider you and work with you,” Perrotti said.
Alvarado is happy that he took a chance with NPower, noting that he has recently submitted his paperwork for the full-time IT position at Deloitte. He is grateful that his friend had informed him about the program, and he preaches about NPower to as many other veterans as he can. Alvarado told us that, when his wife asked if he would quit his job if he won the lottery, he actually had to pause and think about it. “The military prepares you for your life in it. When it’s time to come out, you get a small transitional period,” he noted. “I don’t remember what they said to us, but I felt very ill-prepared to come back out into the civilian world. I felt I managed OK, but it took years for me to finally find a place where I’m happy where I work. I’m more than grateful for NPower.