Last month, the White House pledged $100 million as part of a new plan to provide Americans with the education and training necessary to earn higher wages. This plan is the TechHire initiative, a collaboration between municipalities, employers and education providers to expand access to jobs in the technology sector. The initiative will focus particularly on developing resources and tools to reach underserved populations, with $100 million in grants available to serve people who currently face barriers to the necessary education and training.
As of TechHire’s launch, 21 communities are participating, ranging from known tech hubs like San Francisco to rural eastern Kentucky.
“The overall goal is to increase workforce development, increase employment, add new middle class jobs and fill employer needs,” said Shawn Drost, co-founder of Hack Reactor.
Hack Reactor, a “coding bootcamp” based in San Francisco, is one of several programming schools affiliated with the initiative. Drost said Hack Reactor hopes to launch pilot programs in participating communities to expand access to coding schools outside of existing tech hubs, which tend to be disproportionately wealthy and white compared with the rest of the nation.
“We see a lot more demographic diversity coming when you are working in cities that are diverse already,” Drost said. “You get a totally different demographic makeup.”
Hack Reactor, which has previously demonstrated its commitment to increasing access to tech jobs through initiatives such as Code.7370, the first coding school for U.S. prison inmates, will continue to provide opportunities to disadvantaged communities through TechHire.
Already, Hack Reactor has launched the Telegraph Academy, formerly dubbed Flight Deck Academy, a school in Oakland, California, that will cater specifically to underrepresented minorities. Though tuition is just shy of $18,000, admissions are need-blind and the Academy offers tuition deferrals and scholarship programs to remove socioeconomic barriers to entry.
“If you can get into the school, you can go to the school,” Drost said.
Udacity, another programming school participating in the TechHire initiative, is also working to offer more affordable access to technology training. According to a spokesperson, Udacity has committed up to $5,000 in scholarships for veterans, minorities and other underserved students, which leading tech employers such as AT&T Inc. and Accenture will match at a 1:1 ratio, for a possible total of $10 million in scholarships.
“By making technical education broadly available, our goal is to help people get the skills they need to succeed, thereby enabling companies to hire and advance employees based on competencies and not prior backgrounds or degrees,” said the spokesperson. “Ultimately, we believe this is about social mobility for a broader audience. It’s about economic freedom, and enabling more people to work in careers they are passionate about with skills that matter.”
Employers have pledged to support underserved populations as well: Cisco Systems Inc. is providing individuals interested in career opportunities in IT with free access to online IT networking skills, while Capital One Financial Corp. had committed to a hiring approach based on demonstrated competencies in coding or programming, rather than traditional four-year degrees.
Additionally, organizations such as Opportunity@Work and #YesWeCode will provide financial support and scholarships to help lower-income Americans and minorities be trained and placed into technology jobs.
“I think for a wide variety of historical reasons the software engineering community is demographically skewed and not broadly accessible to people in terms of socioeconomic backgrounds,” Drost said. “Meanwhile, it is an extremely important sector and an area where a lot of future growth is going to happen. In the name of fundamental human rights, it’s important to reverse the historical trend of low diversity in that sector.”