Tech Firm Bridges the Digital Divide

IT executive and business leader Angel Pineiro is at the top of his game as senior vice president of ASI System Integration, but on the other side of the pendulum are the young people—particularly urban Hispanics and other minorities—that lack the resources to develop technology skills. Pineiro refers to it as the “digital divide”: a chasm keeping some of our most employable people from the careers that could transform their lives. Pineiro, determined to close the divide, serves on education panels, works with various nonprofit organizations, has discussed strategies with President Obama at the White House, and even develops initiatives through ASI to encourage grade-school-age children to develop an interest in technology. Pineiro now discusses with Hispanic Executive what he is doing and what more can be done to set technology straight for those who need it most—and might serve it best.

Angel Pineiro is senior vice president at tech firm ASI System Integration, Inc.
Angel Pineiro is senior vice president at tech firm ASI System Integration, Inc.

HE: We know that for Hispanic students a digital divide exists. What is the cause?
AP: Technology has taken over the globe, but the speed with which it took over, and the response to it—in terms of literacy, and the skills that are required to keep up with it—just didn’t match. And access to technology—utilities like infrastructure, computers, Internet access—all played a role in the creation of this digital divide.
If you don’t have access to technology, it’s difficult to excel in your education. And if you don’t graduate from high school or take the proper classes to develop the skills necessary to succeed in this particular industry, being able to afford a career that’s going to be life- and family-sustaining will be a challenge.

HE: ASI System Integration has community programs designed to counteract this divide. Can you elaborate?
AP: We began by collaborating on a program with a not-for-profit organizaion in the Bronx called Per Scholas. The program recruits individuals from at-risk, poverty-level communities and places them in a rigorous program to learn the skills that employers like ASI need in order to hire them. We helped Per Scholas develop the curriculum in order to train students to develop skills and pass the certifications exams that most technology service providers require.
Over the last 10 years we’ve hired 1,000 technicians from these areas—the majority of them from Per Scholas. We’ve heard countless success stories about individuals who came from below the poverty line to become directors, service managers, and engineers living a very comfortable
lifestyle.

HE: You see a longer-term solution, though?
AP: I believe technological skills should be taught in the public school system. I’m fortunate enough to work in New York City, which has the largest school district in the country with 1.1 million students. I was asked to chair the NYC Department of Education’s IT Commission, which aspires to address the issues of workforce development.
This involvement has helped me to be proactive by developing initiatives to help students succeed, either by helping them graduate to post-secondary education or by working with employers to enable these individuals to join the workforce with the proper skills. For a little over a year now, I’ve been working with the IT Commission to figure out ways to address these needs.

HE: So in your opinion, how early should technology be introduced?
AP: I think you can whet their appetites for technology at the grade-school age. Students can be exposed to computer games that introduce different areas of technology and basic tech skills. Kids have the ability to learn quickly, but need to be provided the right tools. When they enter the ninth grade and the topic of technology comes up with guidance counselors, it should be a comfortable and familiar subject, not feel like a different language.

HE: What are the biggest challenges to getting kids interested in technology?
AP: There’s this perception that technology is very difficult, that you need to have a college degree or be a math wizard. None of these things are true. We can expose the kids as early as the elementary level, and then they have the chance to decide whether or not technology is where they want to go, without thinking that it is beyond their capabilities. And if they do decide they want a career in technology, or at least want to pursue that in post-secondary education, those skills should be taught as a core learning subject at the high school level at the very latest.

HE: What initiatives is ASI involved in at the grade school level?
AP: ASI spent the last several months working with the Creating IT Futures Foundation, developing a series of two-to-three minute videos for kids showing a day in the life of a technician, an engineer, a dispatcher… about 17 videos in all. A kid may see a video about a PC tech and say, “Hey, that looks pretty interesting” and talk to their mom or dad about it. Without that exposure, they might never know that a having a career in tech is a possibility.
ASI works with the school systems to make sure that whatever programs they come up with meet the demands of the employers. Because if they don’t, then what’s the point? We want the curriculum on target with employer demands and to provide internships and mentorships to help steer students in the right direction.

HE: What about improving workforce development from the employer’s side?
AP: I sit on the executive committee for the Business Leaders United (BLU), a national initiative created by the National Skills Coalition, and it’s comprised of employers from a range of industries across the nation who are concerned about our nation’s skills gap. BLU members need a pipeline of skilled labor resources. So the issue is not just on the workforce development side—it’s on the employer side as well. We need to make sure education and businesses are working together.

HE: What else needs to be done?
AP: The government needs to be involved too. We need bipartisanship from our elected officials to provide the resources and the money that’s required for these programs to exist. So above all else, we have to educate our leaders so they can go back to their states and implement the programs that address the issues. We have to get this message out.