Kendra Parlock as the executive director of NPower Maryland. Serving some of the poorest neighborhoods in East and West Baltimore, the organization provides tuition-free information technology (IT) training and certifications to job seekers, offering a fast-track to jobs with employers committed to hiring diverse IT talent.
A Baltimorean by birth, Kendra grew up in Detroit, Michigan and returned to Baltimore twelve years ago. Most recently, Kendra served as director of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainable Solutions for the City of Baltimore. Prior to this role, and over a span of two decades, Kendra worked as a global segment manager at Cabot Corporation, led innovation projects in W.R. Grace’s New Business Development Incubator and held technical, sales and marketing roles at DuPont. Kendra studied biology and chemistry at the University of Florida and Wright State University. She received her MBA in Integrative Management from Michigan State University.
NPower began as a nonprofit in New York in 1999. For more than ten years, the mission has been to provide training for careers in Information Technology (IT) to under-represented groups in technology. NPower teaches technical and professional skills demanded in the workplace by engaging with businesses, volunteers, and other nonprofit organizations. The organization is supported by grants from a range of companies and foundations, including Citibank, Morgan Stanley, and Accenture.
NPower Maryland is a member of the Baltimore Mayor’s Office of Economic Development (MOED) Practice Advisory. MOED workforce centers and its Youth Opportunity (YO) centers refer job seekers to programs like NPower, which offer proven workforce development programs for young people ages 17-24.
The six-month training can be tough going and was impacted by recent COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing. Still, NPower Maryland was able to retain 95% of its class of job seekers as they pivoted to online and distance learning professional development.
“We provided laptops and internet access to thirteen (23%) of the Spring 2020 class. We also increased our outreach to students through our social support managers,” Kendra said in an email.
MOED was also forced to close shop due to COVID-19, but its services are being provided remotely. Through participation with MOED, NPower Maryland can establish relationships for social support resources.
Some of the largest employers in Baltimore are in educational services, health care, utilities, logistics, hotels & entertainment, defense, and information technology. As members of the Baltimore City Chamber of Commerce, NPower Maryland participates in virtual networking. Through these events, NPower Maryland promotes ways to meet their hiring needs by sponsoring interns and apprentices. Since 2016, the organization has graduated 260 students, the majority of whom are from low-income neighborhoods. Most don’t have a bachelor’s degree.
In 2019, NPower Maryland met its goal of 85% job placement within one-year of graduation.
“Eighty-seven percent of spring and 50% of fall graduates have already obtained continuous, permanent job placements, with 91% in the technology field,” Kendra said, adding that students who were working before the program (half of the cohort) were underemployed for the most part, with salaries averaging between $14,700 to $19,300 annually.
“Within one year of graduating, the average salary increased by more than 130% to $38,386,” she said. “NPower is an alternative pathway for young adults who don’t attempt or finish college and can’t take on the financial burdens associated with earning a degree. Our IT certifications qualify them to take on entry level tech roles and excel.”
NPower Maryland alumni start their careers in various entry-level IT jobs, including helpdesk support, quality assurance, project management, or as network engineers. A few Baltimore companies that employ NPower graduates include Under Armour, Kaiser Permanente, Leidos Corporation, Northrup Grumman, and TD Ameritrade.
Close to 90 percent of NPower graduates are employed after the six-month program, Kendra told US Black Engineer magazine. According to NPower, over 50% of all jobs in today’s economy require some degree of technology and digital skill, yet the job market is not keeping pace. The organization plans to do more in a post-COVID-19 world to create pathways to digital careers for military veterans and young adults.
“NPower Maryland fuels economic and social progress by building a pipeline from Baltimore City’s highest poverty neighborhoods to corporate IT offices,” Kendra said.