With little information available about this new technology apprenticeship program and a referral from her sister, Chapple took a leap of faith and decided to apply to the first cohort of the AmeriCorps Digital Service Fellow (DSF) — Pre-Apprenticeship program. Benefits like the AmeriCorps scholarship and subsidies for childcare and transportation were a pivotal part of why she took the job opportunity.
“I was already going to school for programming and knew that I wanted to do something else in IT but did not know what,” Chapple said. “When I understood what they [Urban Technology Project] were offering, doing this program made more sense. With this opportunity, it allowed me to do different things within IT and engage in hands-on work.”
Since 2002, the School District of Philadelphia’s Urban Technology Project, an IT apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship program, has given aspiring technicians the opportunity to build skills through industry-recognized certifications, on-the-job experience and mentorship.
Tech industry employment increased by 175,700 jobs in 2022, tracking a whopping 92% ahead of 2019, per recent CompTIA data. As the landscape of tech innovation continues to expand, a need for programs like Philly’s Urban Technology Project stays at the forefront.
Today, not only is Chapple thriving in her career, but she’s pulled her daughter into the industry as well. Chapple’s daughter, who was three months old when she first joined the program, is now in the program as a second-year DSF.
Chapple herself is now a senior systems engineer in identity management at Geico’s cybersecurity office and continues to praise the Urban Technology Project for her success in the tech field: “For [this work experience] to be still providing opportunities 20 years later, changing lives, and growing — it has been an amazing experience. I would do the program again if I could.”
A legacy of tech opportunity
Started by a group of high schoolers in 1995 as “LatinoTech,” the Urban Technology Project was born from a “labor of love,” as quoted by founder and co-visionary, Edison Freire.
“UrbanTech was an experiment to see how we might work with young people in a way that we create learning together and is an approach to demonstrate how powerful young people can be in giving back and solving challenges they have if we build that trust and confidence in their skillset,” Freire said.
According to the Learning and Work Institute, 88% of young people think digital skills will be important for their future careers — yet only 18% said they felt confident with advanced skills such as coding and using more specialist software, which employers might need.
With numbers like these, the mission to provide a clear pathway to entry-level tech roles and allow individuals to find themselves through training and work experience is critical.
Urban Technology Project apprentices learn basic laptop repair, digital literacy, earn CompTIA certifications and more. Apprentices also serve as IT specialists and tech mentors at schools across Philadelphia building the soft and technical skills required to navigate the professional tech industry.
In the early years of the Urban Technology Project, there was a gap in services that provided urban youth with training opportunities in the technology field. In a report published by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the tech industry workforce is 68% white, 14% Asian, 8% Hispanic and 7% African American.
For Gregory Johns-Miller, currently an IT administrator who joined the Urban Technology Project in 2017, the program helped him believe that he could be a tech professional and gave him the tools and support to succeed.
“I was referred to UTP from a friend of mine who was also a digital services fellow at the time,” he said. “I fell into a financial hardship during college and he knew I enjoyed working with technology. The same day he told me, I went down and applied. That same week I was accepted into the program.”
During Johns-Miller’s time in the program, he was involved in a number of experiences that helped him become more comfortable in networking and grow his technical skills.
“I was able to meet the governor and the mayor during my time with UTP,” Johns-Miller said. “I was able to travel to San Antonio for the first time and participate in a conference to talk about the need of an apprenticeship program, and traveled to Williamsport, PA to speak on the importance of AmeriCorps. This program provided many opportunities that I would not have had otherwise.”
The Urban Technology Project gave Johns-Miller his start, and as a result of his success in the tech industry for the past five years, he was able to buy his first home.
Celebrating 20 years
Now in 2022, Urban Technology Project continues its dual mission: to advance digital literacy and equity through education, and mentoring to develop the present and inspire the future generation of technologists. Executive Director Shana Savage sees the program expanding to offer apprentice training in other occupational tracks including cybersecurity, networking and digital media.
The Urban Technology Project will be celebrating 20 years of preparing underrepresented individuals for careers in technology on Saturday, Oct 22. Guests will enjoy a full course brunch, a live student band, hear from special speakers and more.
To learn more about the occasion, visit the event site: