When people switch jobs to pursue a technology career, it takes the right type of program to help them with reskilling. The tech industry is working on diversifying its workforce, and offers lots of resources to reskill these underrepresented technologists.
“It's important to increase the pipeline of women and African American and Latinx folks into the community, so we have a diversity of voices and experiences educating us in tech,” said Desa Burton, executive director of Zip Code Wilmington, a nonprofit coding program in Delaware.
Barriers for reskilling technologists include time and cost, especially when you are already working full-time in a position such as personal trainer, postal clerk, hospital administrator or hotel valet.
“With more free or low-cost training resources available and in a range of formats including bite-size, on-demand modules, these two concerns can be alleviated fairly easily,” said Maureen Lonergan, vice president for Amazon Web Services (AWS) Training and Certification.
Here are four initiatives aimed at reskilling underrepresented technologists:
Intel and Dell
Intel has partnered with Dell to expand the chipmaker’s AI for Workforce program to enable community college students to acquire skills in artificial intelligence. Intel aims to diversify the A.I. field and help workers acquire new skills. It will collaborate with 18 community college systems across 11 states to develop curriculums in areas such as data collection, computer vision and A.I. model training.
Zip Code Wilmington
In Delaware, a nonprofit organization called Zip Code Wilmington provides scholarships and stipends as well as tech career training for women and Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) to help people reskill for technology jobs. Participants are hired directly at organizations in positions such as software developer, software engineer and data engineer. The program teaches students on two tracks: object-oriented programming with a focus on Java, and data engineering with a concentration in Python, R and SQL.
The organization works with BlackRock, an investment management group, to provide scholarships to help people below the poverty line. Zip Code Wilmington only collects a portion of the student’s tuition up-front; then a corporate partner or the student pays back the other half, Burton explained.
She noted that one of her students described the reskilling at Zip Code Wilmington as transitioning from a “name-tag job into a lifelong career.” As Burton notes, coding programs are not replacing four-year degrees but providing another “pathway” to reskilling and preparing for careers in technology.
Amazon Web Services
Amazon offers a program partly geared toward underrepresented communities, called re/Start, to provide scenario-based learning, hands-on labs and coursework in cloud computing. Participants also acquire Linux, Python, networking, security and relational database skills. The program has led to jobs at companies such as Accenture, Capgemini and Sony PlayStation.
Year Up, a national organization that offers reskilling and support to young adults in a one-year program to help them advance from a minimum wage job to a career in technology, is partnering with Amazon on re/Start.
“That's a great example of a proactive strategy to build out greater representation through reskilling,” said Emily Schaffer, managing director, technology, for Year Up. "I think all companies need to be doing this because we want to create a future that is more inclusive, and that taps into the talent that we have, and we're not doing it right now.”
To reskill underrepresented technologists, organizations should take a data-driven approach and develop a culture of inclusion, Lonergan noted. That means hiring, retaining and advancing diverse talent.
To reskill employees, Amazon has partnered with Slalom Consulting to develop a training, certification and mentorship program to boost the number of female employees in and out of tech, she said.
“The program included both self-paced, group training and mentorship to help these participants balance their reskilling goals with their day jobs,” Lonergan said. “The end result was the achievement of gender parity within Slalom among those staff with an AWS Certification.”
Founded in Boston, Year Up helps companies across the United States recruit underrepresented talent that would otherwise be denied opportunities. The organization assists young people on more than 29 campuses across the U.S. in addition to its virtual training offerings, targeting young adults who do not have four-year college degrees.
Of the Year Up participants, 43 percent are female, 57 percent are male and more than 90 percent identify as a Person of Color, according to the organization. Year Up provides training in help desk and desktop support, cybersecurity, data analytics, application development, quality assurance and project management support. Students can earn college credits and an educational stipend.
To provide opportunities to budding underrepresented technologists, it all comes down to making sure they have that practical experience they need to succeed, according to Schaffer.
“We know there's not enough diversity in the pipelines of talent that are coming out of our traditional recruiting mechanisms,” Schaffer said. “One of many reasons that is driving that lack of representation in the existing talent pipelines is you can't be what you can't see. We need people to be the trailblazers to help make it clear that People of Color and women are welcome and embraced and can make their mark in the world of technology.”