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In West Philly, a diverse group trains to break through in a field dominated by young white men

April 23, 2021 Category: FeaturedMediumPurpose
When the team at Drexel University’s Beachell Center launched its first ever technology training in Salesforce, the intent was to go beyond filling a void in its West Philadelphia neighborhood.

“Sometimes we get too focused on the deficit model in Black communities,” said Soneyet Muhammad, director of workforce development and economic inclusion at the Center. “But there is an ‘and.’ We can offer basic digital learning and technology training.”

Just under 50 participants completed a certification training in Microsoft. From that group, a cohort of 13 went on to complete a 20-week training in Salesforce, a leading customer relationship management service used by many businesses and nonprofits including Drexel. Funding allowed the Center to offer the training at no cost to participants.

The Beachell Center collaborated with The Urban League, The Enterprise Center, the Lancaster Ave 21st Century Business Association (LA21) to promote the program. Partnering with these and other community-based nonprofits, helped the Center attract a widely diverse pool of students reflective of the area.

Participants were as young as 18, and more than a third were over 55. There was also a myriad of skill sets represented in the largely African American group.

Soneyet Muhammad. (Photo from LinkedIn)

“Some people were already in tech, and some didn’t even know what Salesforce was,” said Muhammad. She added that,” if you offer diverse programming, you’ll get a diverse audience.”

Students can further their training and become certified Salesforce administrators, also at no cost to them. In addition to helping the graduates better market themselves, the advanced certification could open several career opportunities. Once certified, students could become trainers or Solutions Engineers with Salesforce or one of its 150,000 corporate users.

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Sheltimah Jackson is in her 30s and completed the initial training. She is now studying for the administrator certification test this summer. Through a previous employer she saw a flyer about the Beachell program and jumped on the opportunity. Her employer used Salesforce but Jackson had no direct experience using it.

“I thought I’d just learn to be a functional user. I never expected to want to learn all the ins and outs of it,” Jackson said.

Jackson has been paired with Salesforce employees who provide career mentoring. She also has access to the program while she prepares for the next level certification. She said she is excited about the earnings potential and her prospects as an entrepreneur. “There’s nowhere to go but up,” she added.

Although she completed the program in January, Jackson says the Center has maintained a strong relationship with the students. “They still check in on us and they’re always offering so many other helpful programs. I think I’ve signed up for something just about every month [since completing the training],” Jackson said.

Charles Marsh is in his 50s and like Jackson, he completed the Microsoft and Salesforce trainings and is now preparing for the administrator certification. A relative told him about the program which Marsh thought would help as he transitions careers.

Currently a retail manager, Marsh holds a master’s degree in music theory and is now looking to become a Salesforce manager. “But I’m creative and I’m sure I can figure out how to marry the two,” he said.

Being middle-aged and not familiar with Salesforce, Marsh admitted he was leery entering the program. But through various teachers the Center brought in, Marsh said the issue of inclusivity was positively addressed head on.

"It’s just good to know that someone like me from West Philadelphia can access this."
Charles Marsh

According to Marsh, one speaker encouraged them that they could break through a field currently dominated by young white males. Through the training and career development, Marsh is now confident that he can do just that. “It’s just good to know that someone like me from West Philadelphia can access this,” said Marsh.

The pandemic has clearly shown the necessity of being able to work remotely, and Marsh likes that he is now ‘global’. “I love that I can live anywhere I want and still do my job.,” said Marsh.

All program graduates will also receive hands on experience. Students will serve as technical advisors to LA21, helping them use Salesforce to support merchants in its commercial corridor.

Beachall Learning Center programs are borne out of a commitment to economic inclusion for its West Philadelphia neighbors. Muhammad said the Center is actively pursuing future funding to offer the training again and involve the pilot cohort.

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