The only employer is Johns Hopkins Hospital and we don't have the education or training to get a job there.
Of the many heartbreaking story lines of the Baltimore uprising sparked by Freddie Gray's death while in police custody, these words from a neighbor in the city's depressed west side, stick. The issues of generational poverty, historic racism, public policies that in practice backfired, corruption, frayed police and community relations are central to any discussion and action to rebuild this and scores of other communities across the country. But we must ask what the stability of a good paying job in a lucrative, thriving career could do to empower people economically. What could the opportunity afforded by a steady, well-paying job do to strengthen social ties in a community that can transform from a so-called dead end to one where its residents are going places?
This is where a career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) comes in. In 7 Coding Programs Targeting Diverse Students, I make the case for a larger investment, driven by Silicon Valley, in youth coding education, targeting low-income and/or minority students. But what if you're an adult with few or zero job prospects? In an economy that continues to slowly recover since the global financial meltdown, a significant number are considered "missing workers" or those who are unemployed and/or have given up looking for work, according to the independent think tank the Economic Policy Institute. Additionally, Silicon Valley has a statistically documented diversity problem: less than 25% of those working in STEM fields are women and only 3% are Latina, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Now square the "missing workers" and the dearth of diversity with the much quoted fact that by 2020, 1 million computer science jobs could remain open because there won’t be enough qualified computer science grads to fill them, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It's hard to not connect the dots and see that our technology industry can assume a leadership position with computer skills training for diverse workers, helping to revitalize local and the broader economy while solving its tech worker shortage.
Critics will say my analysis is too simplistic. Perhaps. Although I don't know if the West Baltimore neighbor who begins this post would think so. The question that must be posed and answered is:
How do we bridge a potential employee's computers skills gap with the IT needs of our economy?
One answer: the so-called coding academies that are giving students a crash computer skills course in areas like programming and web development, dispelling along the way the notion that you have to be a math or science whiz.
5 Coding Boot Camps for Minority Adults
- New York City's Flatiron School (hat tip: PBS Newshour's economics correspondent Paul Solmon): For about $15,000, this academy offers a 10 week course that claims to have a 96% job placement rate in positions averaging $65,000/year. While not exclusively focused on future programmers of color, it offers scholarships to underrepresented students such as women and minorities, including a full tuition subsidized by the city.
- Sabio.la : A comprehensive software engineering program in Los Angeles focused on "cultivating exceptional talent." Sabio, which means wise in Spanish, has developed a 24 week methodology focused on pre-work, computer skills training, career placement, and mentoring. Between $3,500 and $13,000 as of publication, financing, although not scholarships, are available.
- Code Year: Created by Codecademy, online interactive tutorials teach web developer skills, computer languages, and APIs in lessons that take about 5 hours to complete. While not specifically targeting diverse techies, the program is free. If you don't have a computer or an internet connection at home, go to your local library or a friend's house to learn to code!
- Code Fellows: With in-person full day courses in Seattle, Portland, and Chicago, this program offers nearly full tuition scholarships for applicants who are women, veterans, or minorities. Courses average $12,000 and this year, this academy has set a goal of awarding up to 40 scholarships worth $250,000.
- Free Code Camp: This program not only teaches computer skills for free. But in exchange for free learning, coders build projects for nonprofits, in this way providing real world experience to help students build their resumes and portfolios.
For any coding program to be successful, students need to be singularly committed and the program needs to feature excellent teaching and corporate connections. But for a true economic transformation to take root and be sustainable, we need Silicon Valley to broadly commit to scaling these programs. One look at the economic decay in some of the communities in the news and it's clear that the time for tech giants to act was yesterday.
This may very well be the best start-up yet.
Any programs I missed? Please leave your recommendations below as a comment.
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