The staff at AboutWeb sat down for a chat with Robert Epstein, Founder, President, and CEO of AboutWeb, and the creator of AboutWeb Cares, for a personal interview. Here are some of the excerpts:
Why did you start AboutWeb Cares?
Having worked in the technology and consulting field, primarily in the DC Metro region, for over 30 years, I noticed two trends occurring: a surplus of unemployed or underemployed people in our local, economically disadvantaged communities who were eager to improve their lives, and a shortage of skilled IT professionals to fill all the positions desired by a booming IT industry.
I realized there was an incredible opportunity to do a lot of good if we could find a way to train our local communities in IT, and provide them with a pathway to enter the IT industry by getting real-life, paid IT job experience.
You mentioned that many people from our local communities have been left out of the ongoing technology boom. Tell us a little more about that.
Only part of our working society has been thriving in the current, ongoing technology revolution. Some are enjoying new technology innovation, high paying jobs, excellent careers, enhanced skills, on the job training, advancement, and mobility in the workplace. In addition, the increase in telecommuting and mobile technology within the IT field has helped to improve people’s overall quality of life. It allows more flexible time to spend with family, and reduced commute times by avoiding traveling during rush hour. People can have more choices regarding where to live, particularly when they seek to choose areas that have better schools for their children. Flexibility in the workplace also offers employees and emerging entrepreneurs in the IT field the chance to spend more recreation and vacation time with family and friends. Children benefit from more time with their families and stronger educational opportunities. I want to see more of our local communities benefit from the technology revolution in the workplace.
What barriers exist for people from economically disadvantaged areas to enter into the IT field?
Today, many people in our local communities are stuck in dead-end jobs at low pay with no chance for advancement. They work hard for years in industries or businesses that have closed down. Some workers were laid off, and a lack of current skills, knowledge, and training prevents them from being hired and enjoying the fruits of this new booming technology economy. In addition, there are the hard working folks that just can not make it on what they earn now and need a little more money each month to get by and cover their bills. They are looking for a part-time or second job just to make ends meet.
Also, adults and children who are affected by generational poverty often see no way out of their situation. Unfortunately, many capable people never get a second chance because of past mistakes. Where does that leave them? How can they improve their lives and get out of poverty? Humans are not perfect. People make mistakes and I believe in second chances. It is never too late to turn your life around.
What are you seeing in human potential that other companies are not seeing?
The tech field is booming and has been for over 30 years with no end in sight. With every new technology innovation, there are thousands of new jobs which require the skills needed to deal with these innovations. Take the iPhone, for example. I’ll bet 10 years ago most people didn’t even know what an app was. Now millions of people are involved in creating, building, and supporting apps while making good salaries and being involved in cutting edge technology.
Since we are such a wireless society these days, there are tremendous opportunities to do good things and bring the world closer. However, this can also make us vulnerable to security breaches, phishing attempts, ransomeware, as well as those who seek to use technology against us, such as hackers. This has created an entirely new class of cybersecurity jobs involved with building secure web and mobile applications for commercial enterprises like banks, credit cards companies, as well as federal, state, and local governments. The need for cybersecurity professionals will continue to grow exponentially in the coming decade.
By 2020, there will be nearly 1.5 million open jobs in the tech sector. Tech skills are 20 of the top 25 most sought-after skills by employers on Linkedin, and the 10 fastest growing keywords in job listings on Indeed are tech-related. However, the problem is there are not enough qualified people to fill all these jobs. Here lies the opportunity. Many economically challenged individuals actually live right next to these thriving technology companies or in close proximity. What if, instead of looking elsewhere to find people to fill these IT jobs, we turned to people from economically disadvantaged areas in our local communities to create these opportunities? We could radically transform the economic landscape of our cities and help change many lives for the better.
I believe in the human potential that exists within our struggling cities, and I hope that the AboutWeb Cares program can be a paradigm for other companies to invest in training their local communities and creating jobs.
Empowering economically disadvantaged individuals or entry-level students to be qualified for these high paying high demand technology jobs is a fantastic goal, but how do you get there?
One question that I have constantly heard over the years from students, as well as our local communities, is “how do I gain the experience I need to be qualified for a high paying technology job?” If someone is living paycheck to paycheck and still not able to pay all their bills, it is hard to figure out how to make a change. For example, they may have a steady minimum wage job but their income potential is limited. Do they risk leaving that steady job to go back to school, which is very expensive or not feasible if they have a family to feed? Alternatively, do they risk applying for a technology job when they have no skills training or experience in that area? Or, what about the people taking second jobs to help them get by, but they are not able to spend time with their families? Many feel there is no escape from their situation.
I felt it was time to take some action, and so I created AboutWeb Cares. The goal is to empower people in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods by retraining and retooling their skills along with on the job experience to help them find good jobs with advancement. American companies will benefit from hiring local talent and allow them to continue to create high-paying American jobs while individuals will be given the opportunity to reduce and break their cycle of generational poverty, provide for self-dignity, and get a second chance at a better life.
What motivated you to do this program?
I am the type of person who likes to take action when I witness injustice. When I saw this problem, I was determined to come up with a solution. I was taught from a very early age to work hard, get a good education, and strive for success in order to make a difference in the world. I plan to continue to emphasize this philosophy with all employees at AboutWeb. I believe this is the key to inspire success and create change in people’s lives.
AboutWeb Cares sounds like a fantastic program. Is there a cost to be in this “on the job” training program?
No, there is no cost to enter the program and, in fact, we pay employees of AboutWeb while they are in the program. You are hired as an AboutWeb hourly employee and we typically require 10 hours a week of commitment to our organization.
Should someone quit his or her day job to do this AboutWeb Cares program?
I recommend that you don’t leave your other steady job…yet! Don’t take that risk. AboutWeb Cares offers part-time work for 10 hours a week with a flexible schedule. This allows you to keep your current job while learning new skills. Once your experience gets strong enough, you can then market your new skills and apply for new full-time opportunities, including full-time jobs with AboutWeb! Either way, you get paid while you learn, gain the skills you need to increase your income, and get exposure to America’s technology world.
How is this program funded?
AboutWeb, in addition to being a full service, IT solutions provider, is also a social enterprise company, and the AboutWeb Cares program is entirely self-funded by AboutWeb. The way we do this is through a “2 + 1” Model. This means that for every two IT professionals that we deploy in the field to perform IT services, we take a portion of our proceeds to fund one person into the program, thereby changing another life forever!
What are your growth plans for this program?
I am hoping to open offices in other economically disadvantaged areas and inspire other companies to do their civic duty and hire and train from their local populations, especially from economically disadvantaged areas. As a lifelong Marylander going back four generations, it has been my great honor to open the AboutWeb Cares headquarters office in downtown Baltimore and make a difference in Baltimore City.
I seek to grow the program in the coming years by obtaining additional work from businesses, associations, and nonprofits who support our social enterprise structure and are looking for an IT solutions and staffing partner that is also doing good work in their communities.
Do you have any success stories to share?
Our website has many testimonials from people that have been really happy with the program. Feel free to go hereto read them for yourself!
Who is qualified and how does someone apply?
Our core mission is to target economically challenged areas, so that is where we hire from. We use government targeted HUBZone maps to determine if an individual is qualified to join the AboutWeb Cares program. The person must live in a qualified area census track from this map to be eligible. You can click here to verify if you reside within a qualified area.
Other requirements include:
- Able to work 10 hours per week, with a total of 40 hours per month
- Provide current proof of residency (for example: driver’s license, voter registration card, or lease with further documentation)
- Authorized to work in the United States
- Background check
- 9th grade reading and math proficiency
- Potential to work remotely based on location if have computer and internet access
If interested, please submit a resume and cover letter to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include complete contact information, full home address, and areas of interest and expertise.