Despite layoffs at high tech companies, hiring people with tech skills doesn’t seem to be getting any easier. There are currently 695,077 open computing jobs nationwide, according to Code.org. Compare that to the 79,991 computer science students who graduated into the workforce last year and you see the scale of the problem.
However, there is a solution.
Crystal Crump is managing director of company relations at LaunchCode, a St. Louis-based non-profit. It provides marginalized individuals with the advanced tech skills needed for a successful career.
“You don’t necessarily need to have a four-year computer science degree to be successful in technology,” says Crump. “About 50% of the people in our program have a bachelor’s degree, but it’s non-computer science related. What we’ve found is you don’t need that. You can be successful as long as you have the will, the determination, the aptitude.”
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How it works. LaunchCode, which also has centers in Kansas City, Mo., and Philadelphia, combines computer science courses with a paid apprenticeship program. Because it’s a free, part-time program, people can get the training while still at their full-time jobs. This makes it accessible to a lot of people who would otherwise be unable to get this kind of training. Also, the apprenticeships – which frequently lead to job offers – provide soft skills and familiarity with corporate culture in general.
“Our programs reduce barriers for individuals to obtain these tech skills and get the training and then get connected to employers who are willing and ready to give them an opportunity,” says Crump.
Helping employers. The organization also works with employers, helping them see the value of candidates who don’t fit 100% of a job description. Crump describes this as “hiring for skills and potential.” In 2021, 132 employers hired LaunchCode graduates, a 12% increase over the previous year. The companies that hired the most graduates last year include Microsoft, Boeing, Accenture, Comcast and Cigna.
“What we found is our skills-based, job-focused education and training provides the foundational skills for people that have the passion, drive and aptitude to be successful,” she says.
Filling many different roles. LaunchCode graduates aren’t only software engineers. They’ve also been hired as data and business analysts, quality assurance and testing, program or project management of software development. “And they also have roles bringing together the business and technical needs for applications,” says Crump. “We have individuals that are job ready right now because of LaunchCode’s on-going education schedule.”
The organization was started in 2013 by Jim McKelvey, a St. Louis native and co-founder of Square – best known for its phone-based point-of-sale systems. He had originally tried to build a development shop for the company in St. Louis, but couldn’t find the talent he needed and wound up going to California. Following Square’s successful launch, he decided to do something about that and founded LaunchCode.
The organization is committed to recruiting and enrolling people from historically marginalized communities. To that end, they are constantly re-evaluating their procedures and outcomes.
A report by The Brookings Institution found that, following admission policy changes, LaunchCode “admitted more Black students, female students, and students with fewer hours of prior coding experience.” The proportion of Black students increased 16 percentage points to 37%; female students and students with less than five hours of prior coding experience each increased seven percentage points to 46% and 47% respectively.
And, thanks to the growing trend of remote work, this talent pool is available to companies everywhere.
“We are working with employers in regions outside of where we have existing operations,” says Crump, “to see if there is a need for this sort of a program in their area. And so we’ve done engagements in Wisconsin and Charlotte, NC. And also in some other underserved communities to help grow talent in those areas. We are always looking to talk with companies that want to diversify their workforce and make an impact on their surrounding communities.”
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