Executive Director, Jonathan Pride and NPower Texas Breaks Barriers with Free IT Training

Keeshala Henderson

SDM – NPower Texas launched in 2013 in the Bill J. Priest Small Business Innovation Center. The mission is to move people from poverty to middle class status. How did this idea originate, what is offered and what differentiates this program from other educational opportunities?

Jonathan – NPower is a national non-profit on a mission to create pathways to prosperity for veterans and their spouses, as well as young adults from underserved communities, ages 18-26. The company was developed to create an inroad for disconnected, underserved, and underrepresented individuals to have access to the ever-growing IT sector. Unlike many other markets, IT leans heavier on professional certifications and credentials and we figured if we upskill people who have the capacity and experience, we could make an impact on the communities we exist in.

We don’t consider other education or workforce partners as competitors because heaven knows the communities are hurting and the more opportunities available, the better. However, we differ because our program is completely free. There is no income share, financial requirement, or education attainment preference. We take people as they are and elevate them through a 16-week IT fundamentals program. Afterwards, our goal is to place them in a career in IT making on average $60-80k post-program. The only requirement we have is if an alumnus feels they benefited from our program in any way, to tell their friends and family about it so we can grow our reach. When I joined NPower in March of 2021, we served about 100 individuals a year. Today, just 2.5 years later, we are on pace to serve 500. By the end of 2025, my goal is to serve 1000. We’ve added three new cities in Texas and are working very diligently to expand into additional markets.

The State needs us, and we are answering the call.

SDM – Indeed and the growth is astounding! As a US Army Veteran, how did your passion and career path venture into becoming the Executive Director of NPower Texas?

Jonathan – In a weird and serendipitous way, I am convinced all my major life decisions converged on the path that led me to NPower Texas. After serving eight years as a military intelligence officer in the US Army, my wife and I were faced with a difficult decision to either leave the military and the only job I’ve ever had as a professional; or leave my wife, son, and 6-month-old daughter and deploy to Afghanistan for a one-year deployment. After prayer and serious deliberations, we chose the former and I began my transition from the military and into the private sector. While I knew this decision had serious ramifications, I knew it was a decision that God was leading me to take and there would be no turning back. As such, I worked prudently to secure a job offer from a Denver-based company and my family and I committed to the prospect of remaining in Colorado post-military and starting our lives anew.

The only problem is within four weeks of my separation from the military, my eventual employer called and informed me the role was being moved to California and I would have to relocate. It wasn’t something my wife and I were interested in doing so I had to decline the job offer and continue my search in the face of uncertainty. With a mere four weeks remaining before separating from the military, I leaned into my network, reached out to personal and professional contacts, and landed a job in Newport News, VA.

Invariably, while I was faced with a major life crisis while separating from the military, one of my military intelligence soldiers experienced a similar story. The only difference between our stories is that I had a master’s degree, two professional certifications, a strong network, and served as an officer in the Army. My soldier did not have a degree, was not an officer, did not have a strong network, and lacked a plan of action in the event something went wrong with their transition. While my soldier and I had solid communication and mutual connections from our military unit, they felt alone and misunderstood. Suddenly, the communication went silent. They stopped returning emails, calls, and text messages. As I inquired into their status from other former members of the unit, I learned my soldier committed suicide. They couldn’t land on their feet post-military and made the ill-fated decision to end it.

I made a commitment to serve as a lighthouse and beacon of hope for those less fortunate, underserved, and disconnected from opportunity. At first, my service to others appeared in the form of volunteer work and my passion to serve shifted to more board memberships and bridge-building between corporations and communities. Ultimately, after the merger and acquisition of my previous employer by a competitor, I decided to join the non-profit sector as an executive director and lead from the front.

SDM – Thankfully you have made a commitment to serve because you have an indispensable vantage point in supporting
veterans. What are the gaps or challenges that veterans and their spouses encounter as it relates to employment?

Jonathan – Veterans are an interesting demographic because they are one of the few subsets of Americans with invaluable and tremendous experiences but lack the vernacular to speak about it. When I separated from the military, I had to quickly learn NOT to use acronyms and abbreviations. I had to learn that most people I encounter have no clue what the military actually does (outside of war movies). I had to embrace that common military values like honor, duty, selfless service, and courage were not common practice in the corporate or civilian workplace. I faced a real challenge and had to learn quickly that it’s sink or swim in the private sector and that the difference between success and failure was how quickly I adapted and evolved.

Most veterans and spouses are no different. At NPower, we work very diligently to rebuild professional development and human skills needed to be successful in the workplace. We help translate resumes and CVs to be more reflective of their experiences instead of their jobs. We help highlight employability skills that employers need and are actively seeking. For the military spouse in particular, many times, they come from transient communities and haven’t had an opportunity to build a career because of frequent relocations. We help show them how to leverage this experience and highlight adjectives like adaptable, agile, flexible, innovative, and determined. Oftentimes, these traits are examples of leadership, and it only takes simple education to explain how. This is how NPower and organizations like NPower create pathways for veterans and their spouses to enter the workforce with a competitive edge.

SDM – What is the best part of your role and can you give a us a brief sneak peek into the day-to-day for you and your team?

Jonathan – The opportunity to witness true life change is beyond a doubt, the best part of my job. Most alumni I encounter share stories about how pre-NPower, they were making minimum wage, leaving on public assistance, and struggling to survive each day of our program while post-program; they are often earning the most money they’ve made professionally while supporting their families and communities through their IT career. Hard to beat! And the best part? Since my time at NPower, we’ve served 400% more people and have added three new locations in Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Houston. Generational wealth opportunities grow at an exponential rate when NPower alumnus and their families are elevated from poverty and afforded the opportunity to upskill.

As an Executive Director, my role is to create in-roads and career opportunities for those we serve. On any given day, I meet with funders, senior corporate leaders and executives, community partners, elected officials and local municipalities and governments, or influencers who are interested in giving back to the community. My team, now 40 strong, help by creating such a positive and
enriching experience for our students that alumni become our greatest recruitment referral source.

SDM – Let’s delve into these pivotal partnerships! There are Fortune 500 companies like Citi and Bank of America and Big Four Accounting firms, Ernst and Young and Deloitte, partnering with the placement of your graduates in vital roles leading and supporting
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these organizations. How are these employer partnerships established and how does the apprenticeship work?

Jonathan – I employ five career placement managers who work with corporate partners of all sizes to provide job placement opportunities for our students. As a Department of Labor Registered Apprenticeship provider, NPower is in a unique position to provide apprenticeship opportunities to employers who may not have the FTE headcount available but can afford to hire an intern or apprentice. This pathway is good because it affords the employer an opportunity to “try before they buy”. Our hope is that the apprentice is converted at the end of the apprenticeship. If they are not, the alumni received valuable experience needed to apply for other roles in IT. With an 80% placement rate post-program, we feel we have a sustainable and successful model for our students to enter the IT workforce and be successful.

SDM – How is the tuition-free program funded?

Jonathan – Our program is funded by government, private, and corporate philanthropy. It is how we can offer it at no cost to our students. Generous donations are our lifeline and the vehicle that keeps us going. My team is constantly sourcing leads and partnerships to offer our free program in other cities across America.

SDM – The internal and external commonality of generosity is uplifting! You have achieved noteworthy success at a young age and leading an organization comes with wins and losses. What are your top values as a leader and what do you deem to be the most important traits of a successful leader?

Jonathan – While I am usually the youngest leader at companies, I have always made it a point to not allow my age to be a barrier. As such, I’ve always tried to exemplify the values of integrity, transparency, and accountability in everything I do. It’s certainly important to be a part-time chameleon and blend in with whatever environment I find myself in. However, it was in these instances when I learned to bend and not break. It’s okay to be young. It’s okay to be black or a minority. It’s okay to be inexperienced. As long as I held myself accountable and operated above reproach and controversy; it seemed to find good fortune following me.

I believe the most important value for leaders in executive roles is to make every decision as if it impacts one’s own family. In other words, show empathy and compassion while understanding the personal impacts it has on internal and external stakeholders. Leadership is hard. It’s lonely. And it’s often thankless. It’s a heavy burden and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

SDM – You have a beaming personality, an undeniable passion for people and an amazing speaking gift that captivates the audience and can move them to tears. What motivates you personally and professionally?

Jonathan – I’m motivated by my faith and belief that God gave me an opportunity to leave a positive impact on this world. I’m not satisfied basking in my own career success, while knowing there are other people within my own city who are wondering when their next meal will come. Access to education appears limitless, while access to opportunity is limited. I cannot truly be happy knowing I didn’t do enough to level the playing field for those who have not. I love storytelling. I love sharing the journeys of others. I love hearing the stories of others. I love people. I am motivated by my passion to put a dent in the universe by ending poverty, creating access to opportunity, and moving people onto a gliding path where they can achieve their full potential. I’m the author of a book titled, “Caterpillars Don’t Fly”. I guess you can say it took me accepting my own personal metamorphosis and transformation in finally becoming a butterfly (in at least one phase of my life) before I saw that God wanted me to help others do the same. That is what drives and motivates me. I measure success by the amount of people who measure their success by my influence over their lives. That’s what I want my legacy to be. I can name 37 individuals who went on to get promoted and succeed in greater salaried roles and responsibilities as a direct result of my leadership and mentorship. This is my income. Money will fade. Companies will dissolve. Generational wealth opportunities live on.

SDM – NPower Texas’ program expansion to young adults between the ages of 18-to-26 years old, not just veterans and spouses, has opened the door to creating generational wealth. Why was this shift significant and how has it impacted the program?

Jonathan – This shift is important because young adults are quickly becoming the most disconnected demographic in America. Data shows community college and two and four-year university enrollments are down nationwide since COVID. Well, where are these people going? What are they doing for work? We felt expanding our program to include young adults allowed us to evolve and change with the times. Nationwide, about 60% of NPower’s students are young adults. In Texas, we only served veterans and their spouses since 2013 so we felt we needed to diversify our student base to include young adults. In 2022, we launched our young adult program. Today, they make up just under half of the total class composition. We also launched a high school program for graduating seniors (17–18-year-olds) that we hope to roll out in the Dallas and Fort Worth ISDs. There is a need for our program and we’re quickly expanding our reach to include non-traditional and diverse talent at all levels.

SDM – You have witnessed major success stories from graduates of your program. Is there one success story that pulls on your heart strings that you can share?

Jonathan – I have so many stories to share. I suppose my favorite story is one of a young man who attended our Spring 2023 program. He was a young adult and worked at Velvet Tacos in Dallas. He was an assistant manager and served me as I ordered lunch with an employer partner. I looked into the young man’s eyes and saw something. As I waited for the food, I asked him for his story and he told me how he was born and raised in Dallas. He explained how he knew he had a lot of potential, but didn’t know what he was called to do. So, he gave up. He settled into the life he had and accepted whatever results came with it.

After hearing him speak, I spoke a little about NPower and the opportunities we could help provide. He listened attentively and asked for my card so he could apply. If nothing else, he figured it would be a good opportunity to network. Well, after doing his research, he decided to apply and was accepted into our program. After 16 weeks of tech training, this young man was hired by Citibank as an apprentice and offered a role for $80k a year. Upon learning of the opportunity, he called me and shared his excitement. He didn’t think it was possible. And now, he’s making the most money he’s ever made and is a paradigm of life change. He invested in himself and is now rewarded with an opportunity to a better life. At graduation, this young man shook my hand with tears in his eyes and thanked me for believing in him long before he believed in himself.

Sometimes, all it takes is for someone to see the greatness; even when we are blind to it. That’s what I did for this young man and I’m confident he’ll do the same to someone else he randomly encounters along his journey.

SDM – What a phenomenal success story! For young adults who are indecisive about the next steps to take for continuing their education or choosing a career, what advice would you share?

Jonathan – I would encourage young adults who are indecisive about their futures to choose for themselves. Society attempts to place people in boxes and labels and identifies pathways that are acceptable and successful. Most successful people I know didn’t know what they wanted to do in life until much later so there is no need to rush into a decision that alters the trajectory unless there is a personal conviction. I earned my bachelor’s in political science and I am doing nothing with it in my career. Knowing what I know now, I might have changed my major and pursued a degree in something that was more relevant to my passions. Life is hard. It’s even harder when a person is forced to settle on a path against their own volition. We were all created with a unique journey. Choose for yourself what road you take. It’s why no two people are alike. While there are certainly guideposts, there is no answer key. Take professional and calculated risks and make every decision with the best outcome in mind. Embrace the journey and learn as much as possible while you still have life. It’s not over until God calls you home.

SDM – NPower Texas just announced the launch of the free Community Helpdesk, which offers free technical support to the Dallas community! Can you share more information about this phenomenal community outreach program?

Jonathan – Courtesy of a gracious donation from AT&T, we launched a community help desk out of our Dallas office with the vision of serving as a lighthouse for the community. Residents of Dallas can call our number and receive free technical support for common computer challenges. It is staffed by NPower apprentices and serves as a value for individuals who lack IT experience in troubleshooting. The service is absolutely free and available to anyone in North Texas. We launched the help desk in July 2023, but our full launch will take place in early 2024. Stay tuned for some exciting updates coming soon!

SDM – Lastly, what are one or two things the world needs to know about Jonathan Pride, the husband, father, son, servant leader, and advocate of people?

Jonathan – I am a man of faith. I am a father. I am a Husband. I am a Son. I am a brother, uncle, nephew, and loved one. I am a friend. I am a Leader. I am enough.

It took me a long time to understand this. Growing up in NYC in a 2-bedroom house with two parents and six siblings, I didn’t always think I mattered. I didn’t always love myself. I didn’t always believe in myself. God’s hand in my life wasn’t always enough for me to believe I was called to lead people to their greatness. Like everyone else, I am imperfect and make mistakes, but I love unapologetically. My wife and kids are my rock. They’ve supported me and loved me and remind me daily that I am on the right path.

My ultimate goal in life is to use my platform to bring life change to the communities. I’m not entirely sure what that looks like yet. What I do know is that I am here to make a difference and every step of the journey will be filled with opportunities to reach up, back, and out to grab hold of someone who can take it with me.

My favorite quote is from the Ancient Greek General, Archimedes, “Give me ground and I will move the earth.” Well, I’ve held my ground and am working with every fiber of my being to move the earth to create a world where opportunity and access is universal. And I’m just getting started.

SDM – Thank you NPower Texas for offering this profound information technology training program that can advance social mobility. Thank you, Jonathan Pride, for your service to our country, your excellent servant leadership and your tenacity to make a difference. Southern Dallas Magazine salutes you!

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