When we think of tech hubs, images of San Francisco or New York may come to mind — but these coastal cities aren’t the only ones with thriving tech communities. Heartland cities like Kansas City, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Detroit rank among the fastest growing cities for tech jobs.
In March, CompTIA published its annual Cyberstates Report, confirming this industry trend throughout the United States. Communities in the Heartland are creating access to training and employment opportunities so that a single father working three jobs or a high school grad who taught herself to code can launch meaningful careers in tech.
At the same time, Americans seeking a path to the middle class and the fulfillment of the American dream are trying to tap into the economic opportunities that come with a vibrant, thriving tech industry. Our organization, Opportunity@Work, is a social enterprise dedicated to making that easier.
Through initiatives like TechHire, a national movement with 72 communities across the country, we are working to create pathways for overlooked and underrepresented Americans to gain skills and access open tech jobs across the country. The idea behind our efforts is simple: We believe that if you can do the job, you should get the job.
Right now, there are 6.1 million open jobs in the United States, 700,000 of which are in the IT/technology sector. As tech demand continues to rise, that number is set to climb to 1 million by the end of this decade. The current tech job market is dominated by recruiting processes and biases that “screen out” job seekers based on their past and pedigree, such as resumes and degrees, which denies millions of Americans the opportunity to demonstrate their skills and gain access to well-paying jobs.
The talent is out there. Between 30 and 40 million Americans started college but did not finish. An estimated 6 million young people in this country are neither in school nor in a job. The financial incentive is there, too. According to a 2015 report by CEB, businesses spend on average $407 per day of hiring time, which averages out to $8.5 million per 1,000 vacancies.
Heartland communities and businesses can grow their tech economies by tapping into the capable but overlooked and underrepresented tech talent pools right in their own backyard. One such example from a TechHire community is the City of Detroit partnering with training provider Grand Circus and employer Quicken Loans to offer a free six-week programming bootcamp to community members who want to launch tech careers.
Another community example is the City of Birmingham, Alabama, which has partnered with Innovate Birmingham to train and place more than 300 individuals into tech jobs. Innovate Birmingham is the recipient of an America’s Promise grant that provides free training to individuals ages 17 to 29 who qualify for training funds. Working closely with coding bootcamp Covalence, Generation IT, and the Birmingham Business Alliance, Birmingham has built strong community partnerships to build the local tech training pipeline.
Americans across the country desperately want and need more access to new career pathways — opportunities that will allow them to join the middle class and work, learn, and earn to their full potential. If employers were to look beyond the traditional talent pools to fill their tech jobs, they could boost bottom lines while helping underrepresented communities join growth industries and gain access to more meaningful and lucrative careers. Simply put, widening the talent pipeline would be a boon for both businesses and the Heartland communities they increasingly call home.
By working with parties on both sides of the issue — employers in need of talent, and overlooked and underrepresented talent in need of jobs — we can match need with need, and demand with demand. Opportunity@Work is creating a process of assessing an individual’s technical and behavioral skills for a range of IT jobs. We use these assessments to “screen in” a diverse pool of job-ready candidates whom employers would otherwise “screen out” automatically, enabling employers to connect with these job-ready Americans.
For Heartland communities to experience a revival — and for rising hubs like Kansas City, Indianapolis, and Detroit to sustain their impressive growth — community leaders, local employers, and training providers must stack hands to ensure that overlooked and underrepresented individuals in their communities have access to tech training and employers committed to hire based on skills, not pedigree.
Breaking down some of these structural barriers around hiring practices and the costs of tech training will help re-wire the American labor market. Closing the skills and opportunity gaps will benefit companies and job seekers alike, empowering all Americans to join a new tech workforce and create a brighter economic future for the country.
Byron Auguste is the CEO and cofounder of Opportunity@Work, and Yolanda Townsend is the organization’s senior vice president and general counsel.
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