Pittsburgh is expected to have a lot of tech jobs in the future. More than, perhaps, even its world-renowned universities can fill.

To help fill that need, Per Scholas — a New York-based, national tech training provider — is launching in Pittsburgh, with its first cohort of classes starting March 15.

Unlike many other training programs, it’s free. The intention is to open up tech jobs to a diverse population of students, helping populations typically underrepresented in the tech field find new careers with upward mobility. Overall, 87 percent of Per Scholas students are people of color.

“We have made a commitment to Pittsburgh,” says Plinio Ayala, CEO of Per Scholas. “Just to give you a bit more context, we received a very large grant at the end of last year to invest in 10 cities across the country. It was clear to us that the first investment had to be Pittsburgh because the jobs were there, the need for local talent and training development was there.”

The expansion was announced on Monday by InnovatePGH, Partner4Work and the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, the economic development affiliate of the Allegheny Conference on Regional Development.

“When you look at the last few decades, where we’ve really built the type of R&D and deep technologies that every region would love to have, the piece that was clear that we’re missing is the on-ramps for those companies to grow and diversify,” said Mark Thomas, president of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance. “Per Scholas really fits nicely into anchoring that effort.”

Per Scholas will start locally in training full-stack Java developers, who typically enter the workforce at $50-60,000 a year — considered a solid, family-sustaining wage in Pittsburgh.

“Our entire operation went virtual out of necessity because of the pandemic,” says Ayala. “And we will continue to do that until we’ve gotten control of the pandemic and we can return back into in-classroom operations.”

“The anticipation and hope is that shortly thereafter, sometime in the summer, we will have a physical presence in Pittsburgh and we will work with folks over at Pittsburgh Regional Alliance to try and identify a location that makes sense for us and certainly for our learners.”

Per Scholas is partnering with TEKsystems, a technology services provider that serves more than 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies.

“It’s TEKsystems’ intent to hire from our classes to work in Pittsburgh,” says Ayala. “But as we continue to grow, we anticipate that folks will be working in Pittsburgh and doing remote work for companies, outside of Pittsburgh perhaps. But our intention here is to develop local talent and have it stay in the city.”

Photo courtesy of Per Scholas.

Companies that are thinking of expanding in Pittsburgh are looking hard at the local labor force.

“So the more pipelines (for talent) we have in the city and region, the stronger chance that we have at really attracting companies in the post-Covid world,” says Thomas.

Per Scholas has 30 spaces remaining for its initial classes in March. The only certifications needed are a high school diploma or GED. Their training model has an 85 percent graduation rate.

To start, Per Scholas will hire five local employees, but the company’s other city locations tend to employ between 20 and 25 staff members.

“The feedback we’ve gotten so far in the Pittsburgh community is that courses around cyber-data analytics are important, so we will be adding additional courses over time,” says Ayala. “The reason we started with Java is because TEKsystems has a huge demand for Java specialists in the Pittsburgh area, and has asked us to do that as the first course as we enter the market.”