DEED Hears from Business and Community Leaders on Importance of Youth and Tech Training for BIPOC Workforce
April 5, 2022
Earlier this week, Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) Commissioner Steve Grove and I hosted a roundtable at the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center (PWCC) focused on tech training and the importance of introducing youth to this growing and high-wage earning industry. Youth from Black, brown, and Indigenous communities are one of the fastest growing segments of our workforce and will continue to be so over the coming decade. Providing technology training opportunities will help meet the demands of Minnesota's dynamic tech industry and prepare young people for successful careers with sustainable wages.
We were excited to be at the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center – it's not only a pillar of Minnesota and a cornerstone of North Minneapolis, but also one of four Minnesota nonprofits recently awarded a Minnesota Tech Training Pilot Program grant through DEED. They are gearing up to offer classes out of their center later this year, and these tech trainings will be focused on people from Black, brown, and Indigenous communities.
Tuesday's engaging conversation drew on expanding tech training opportunities in Minnesota, growing the tech talent pipeline for Minnesota employers, and helping to address disparities in employment and economic outcomes through increasing access to digital skills training for underserved Minnesotans.
Roundtable participants included:
• Quanda Arch – Program Director, Digital TechWorks Academy at the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center
• Olamide "Lami" Olagbaju – ManCode Mentoring Participant
• Marcus Pope – President, Youthprise
• Mark Hurlburt – President, Prime Digital Academy
• Allyson Hartle – Vice President of State Government Affairs, Comcast
"In the state of Minnesota, demographics are changing. We have a growing BIPOC population, and we won't have a workforce if we don't have these workforce programs in place early on for K-12 students," said Quanda Arch, Program Director, Digital TechWorks Academy at Phyllis Wheatley Community Center. "Some of the barriers we need to overcome include creating more exposure to these types of careers, and engaging the adults and the parents as well, so they understand what skills are gained from these programs."
"My mom signed me up for the ManCode program. At first, I was hesitant, but I did it and it was great. There were a bunch of different mentors. It was a good experience overall. I learned about coding and game design, and we had different speakers come in to meet with us. It was great to see Black men and Black people in general in these high-paying tech jobs and seeing that it's possible for me to be in this industry. I hadn't thought about a tech job before, but now that I've done the program, I know that's now an option for me in the future," said Lami Olagbaju, ManCode mentoring participant.
"We think young people are amazing and brilliant, and as adults we haven't put the things in place in our community to ensure they thrive. It's about us working with young people who have great leadership capacity, great ingenuity and creativity, and giving them the opportunities to thrive. Unemployment for youth is near historic lows, but our concern is what kind of jobs are those young people going into, and is there a long-term career path with potential for growth?" said Marcus Pope, President, Youthprise. "We need to put the opportunities in place so young people can have a shot at a meaningful future. We're supportive of pilot programs like this and want to see bigger funding allocations going forward for more of these programs."
"The landscape has shifted a lot over the years. If you were a programmer 25 years ago, you'd work for a programming company. Today, if you search for a tech job, you're as likely to find jobs at hospitals, insurance companies and manufacturers as you are at software companies. That expansion and growth of jobs has led the industry to reconsider what makes somebody successful. With that has been the rise of other career pathways, and that comes from various certification programs -- organizations are now saying if you can do the work we can give you the job, instead of needing to see someone's paper trail," said Mark Hurlburt, President, Prime Digital Academy. "The pathway of a 4-year computer science degree is always going to be there and is great for some people. But if you're trying to pay for rent and put food on the table, that might not be the right fit. At Prime Digital, we think all options should be available when considering candidates."
"Comcast is committed to ensuring we have a diverse workforce and a workforce that reflects the communities where we provide service. We want to give people careers and will invite graduates from these programs to interview for open positions. We like to say 'this is more than a job, we have a career path for you.' There's rigorous training when we bring people in, so they have a solid foundation and understand of their role at Comcast. As part of this pilot, Comcast will serve on a curriculum steering panel to ensure that graduates are equipped with the skills and up-to-date knowledge in technology necessary to be successful," said Allyson Hartle, Vice President of State Government Affairs, Comcast.