“These days, every company is a tech company.”
H. Kay Howard, the new Managing Director of Per Scholas Greater Boston, is stepping in at an exciting and pivotal moment. GreenLight Fund Boston invested in Per Scholas in 2019 to provide alternative pathways to meaningful, high-paying careers. Per Scholas accomplishes this by offering tech training to those historically underrepresented in the tech industry. Since then, the labor market has continued to change and the skills taught at Per Scholas are more relevant than ever.
Per Scholas is not only adapting to an ever-changing labor market, but also embracing leadership changes. Robin Nadeau, the founding Managing Director of Per Scholas Greater Boston, was promoted to a national position within the organization as a Regional Senior Vice President. Robin helped launch and grow Per Scholas Greater Boston to outperform initial local goals, ensuring graduates were placed in high-earning positions with pathways to a meaningful tech career. Now, H. Kay Howard, with her extensive background in data-informed nonprofit management, steps into this role to guide Per Scholas into long-term growth, sustainability, and embeddedness in the community.
We connected with H. Kay Howard about what excites her about Per Scholas, her leadership style, and what we can expect from Per Scholas in the future! Hear from H. Kay below:
GreenLight Boston: What led you to Per Scholas?
H. Kay: I learned of Per Scholas from the 2019 VICE Future of Work special report. I saw the documentary and panel featuring our CEO, Plinio Ayala, and a Per Scholas alum at the Sorenson Impact Center’s Winter Innovation Summit Conference. I was blown away by the outcomes data and the learner’s story and have been an avid fan ever since!
Prior to joining Per Scholas in January, I served as the co-lead of the Economic Mobility Practice Area at Third Sector, where I advised public agencies, such as the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA), the Division of Apprentice Standards (DAS), and the Good Jobs Metro Boston Coalition, on data, contracting, and stakeholder engagement strategies to improve equitable education and employment outcomes. At Third Sector, I would regularly reference Per Scholas as an exemplary nonprofit that lives and breathes racial and gender equity and actively tracks and uses data to measure long-term impact. I’m still pinching myself that I now work for the organization I was always pointing to as a model! As someone who has dedicated my career to ensuring that everyone, no matter their background or circumstance, has access to the education, training, and wraparound support that enable them and their families to thrive, joining Per Scholas is truly a dream come true!
GreenLight Boston: What are Per Scholas’ core values and beliefs and how do you display these values as a leader?
H. Kay: At Per Scholas, we believe talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not. I deeply believe good ideas can come from every one, no matter their education, tenure, or positional authority. I embody this as a leader by seeking out and valuing the lived experience and expertise of the Per Scholas Greater Boston team (two of whom are Per Scholas grads!) and by listening to our learners. There is also no faster feedback loop than sharing a workspace with your customers every day. If we are not making decisions aligned with and in service of learners, we will hear it, and then we will innovate accordingly.
Two of Per Scholas’ core values are ambition and commitment to service. I love that Per Scholas upholds these side-by-side because I, too, seek to practice them hand-in-hand. As one of the only nonprofit professionals in my MBA program, I felt some of my classmates viewed a commitment to service as somehow less ambitious than corporate roles. I found the opposite to be true. I encourage my team to set audacious goals on behalf of our learners and to push ourselves to achieve them.
GreenLight Boston: Per Scholas breaks barriers and unlocks potential for people entering the tech industry. How have you experienced breaking barriers and unlocking potential in your career?
H. Kay: I identify with the partners and families of the learners who go through our courses – particularly the career changers. About seven years ago, right after we got married, my husband switched careers into technology with the help of a bootcamp. The video editing studio where he had been working went under. He ended up deciding to go through a 6-month User Experience Design bootcamp. As a white man with a college degree, he had every advantage, and yet, it was hard on both of us. He put in long hours outside of class developing a portfolio and spent 3+ months job searching after graduation to land that first full-time role. Still, it all paid off in the end – for his career and our family.
Many Per Scholas learners have similar dreams to enter technology career pathways that provide stability, work-life balance, and opportunities for growth and increased pay. They also often face additional systemic barriers standing in the way of achieving those dreams. At Per Scholas, we work to remove as many barriers as possible for learners. Our program is no-cost to learners and includes all necessary supplies, from loaner laptops to “tech kits” that support hands-on practice with the tools they will need on the job. We also seek to mitigate employer bias by partnering with values-aligned companies that practice skills-based hiring and view Per Scholas grads’ diverse experiences and backgrounds as an asset to their organizations.
GreenLight Boston: What is next for Per Scholas Boston in terms of expansion and sustainability?
H. Kay: One of my first goals coming into Per Scholas Greater Boston is to develop a three-year strategic plan for our campus that focuses on the growth trajectory, sustainable funding strategy, and alignment of our courses with the labor market. To develop this plan, I am leading a data-informed and collaborative process with our team and partners. Halfway through the planning process, I already know three things will be true for 2023 and beyond:
- In response to the labor market demand and projected growth, Per Scholas will continue to offer IT Support courses, both in-person and remotely, and expand our Cybersecurity training offerings, by launching a 15-week, in-person course in a newly equipped classroom for hands-on learning.
- I strongly believe that Per Scholas should be fully embedded in the public workforce ecosystem here in Massachusetts, so we will continue to diversify our funding sources to maximize public dollars.
- We are prioritizing new employer relationships with sectors least likely to be impacted by the economic uncertainty and big tech layoffs, such as government, healthcare, and higher education. So far in 2023, we have already seen Per Scholas graduates begin working at Roxbury Community College, Tufts University, and the City of Cambridge.
GreenLight Boston: What are some opportunities for the Boston community to engage with and support Per Scholas?
H. Kay: You don’t have to work for a tech company to support Per Scholas! These days, every company is a tech company. You can support Per Scholas learners and alumni by sending us your open early-career tech roles, introducing us to your HR or tech hiring managers, volunteering to conduct mock interviews with a current class, or sharing your career journey with a class.
If you work or volunteer for a local nonprofit, let’s talk about referral and wraparound support partnerships.
Learn more about Per Scholas Boston: https://perscholas.org/locations/greater-boston/
Connect with H. Kay: https://perscholas.org/about/board-staff/h-kay-howard/