Minneapolis invests in tech training for minorities, women

After a series of pilot programs beat expectations this year, Minneapolis in 2016 will put $350,000 into an initiative that boosts tech training and long-term job prospects for people of color and women.
The funding infusion, approved earlier this month, will help expand TechHire in Minneapolis. The public-private partnership is one of about 20 to pop up across the country as part of a White House campaign to diversify the tech sector – one of the fastest-growing corners of the U.S. economy.
TechHire provides accelerated training and boot camp programs plus job-placement help to groups historically shut out of high-paying tech positions. It dovetails with Mayor Betsy Hodges’ push to reduce income disparities between Minneapolis’ white and nonwhite residents.
“Making sure we have equity in the city and in our workforce is the best growth strategy we have, as a city and a region,” Hodges said in an interview.“We have to make sure that our communities of color are prepared and ready to both take and create the jobs of the future.”
For now, TechHire runs out of the city’s Community Planning and Economic Development department. But administrators expect to select a partner organization early next year to coordinate the program, raise awareness and provide career counseling.
Within 10 years, the Minnesota High Tech Association predicts the state will have nearly 200,000 tech jobs not counting ones in the health care sector. Today, 8.5 percent of Minnesota’s jobs are in science and technology – mostly in IT, according to economic development group Greater MSP.
The city has already focused on luring workers to construction, manufacturing and other sectors. But a bright outlook for tech exposed a big opening for Minneapolis to link residents looking for a pay boost to employers hungry for tech talent.
More than 60 local employers – and counting — have opted into the program so far including Wells Fargo, Target Corp. and the city. Those entities are a pivotal piece of the program’s success, based mainly on how many students find permanent jobs after finishing their TechHire courses.
“When you have a lot of demand and there is a [worker] shortage, employers tend to be more open to looking at alternative pathways,” said Deb Bahr-Helgen, Minneapolis’ director of employment and training. “Employers could be missing out on great people if they’re not open to looking at their qualifications.”
The latest city tallies show 179 people had completed crash-course training programs this year. Of that total, 99 had nailed down full-time jobs with an average salary of $48,502 – more than 80 percent of the area median income for Hennepin County.
“This is not just about getting people jobs,” Hodges said. “These are good jobs.”
When it officially launched in March, the TechHire initiative brought together three tech learning programs – Prime Digital Academy, the Creating IT Futures Foundation and the Software Guild – that already offered a range of courses designed to broaden access to tech jobs.
A 20-student cohort that graduated in July from Prime’s 18-week software development course has a 95 percent job placement rate and collectively earns 230 percent more than before the program, said Prime President Mark Hurlburt.
Three other Prime classes with a combined 57 students are on track for the same kind of success, he said, thanks to programming that specifically accommodates the needs of local companies looking for tech staff and the breakneck pace of the industry as a whole.
The truncated scheduling also makes training easier for people with families or other obligations that prevent them from making the multiyear time commitment required to get a typical degree.
“Programs like this are able to be designed to address that the pace of change in tech is incredible,” Hurlburt said. “The pace of change in tech is so fast that it’s very challenging to design curriculum using traditional curricular calendars.”
Hurlburt started Prime after sensing the need as an executive at the Nerdery, a Bloomington-based software company that’s among the Twin Cities employers hiring TechHire trainees.
Software developers and computer systems analysts are among the most in-demand jobs in the state with more than 7,300 openings combined expected through 2020, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
Still, there are barriers. Some of the TechHire partners’ programming is inexpensive or free, but Prime’s carries a $12,500 price tag.
Small scholarships are available for women, people of color and veterans to help cover Prime tuition, but the city has kicked in bigger aid packages based on income – something the latest city budget will expand.
About $250,000 of the allocation will go toward financial aid for students who qualify, Bahr-Helgen said. The city will award its scholarships on a first-come, first-served basis. This year, it tapped into about $400,000 in state, federal and foundation funding to dole out scholarships.
The remaining $100,000 in city funding next year will support a sustained outreach campaign that will target community organizations and ethnic media outlets.
“Our next step is to increase visibility and create more intentional marketing around TechHire and the benefits for these great-paying IT careers,” Bahr-Helgen said. “We want to reach out to women and minorities to make sure they are aware that these are great opportunities. It’s about accessibility.”
Minneapolis will also apply for federal funding earmarked for tech training programs. The White House earlier this year announced $100 million in grant funding for efforts to lower barriers to tech-sector employment.
In addition to drawing in a wider array of trainees, city staff and Hodges say they’ll keep pushing TechHire as a boon to employers. The program is “infinitely scalable,” Hodges said, as long as employers keep signing up to find homegrown talent.
“I don’t want us as a community to leave any of our genius on the table,” she said. “We have so much potential in the extraordinary brainpower of everyone who lives in the city, and I want to make sure we are taking full advantage of that to benefit our growth as a region.”

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