July 2, 2018; Seattle Times
It is widely known that the technology industry suffers from a lack of diversity. NPQ reported on efforts taken by Google and other tech companies to recruit more women and people of color into technology careers through training and other opportunities back in 2015. The Obama administration also provided federal funds through the TechHire initiative, a campaign to expand local tech sectors by building tech talent pipelines. Many of these programs partnered nonprofits with colleges, universities and other tech training programs to send potential employees through intensive training programs.
But have these efforts worked? The Seattle Times reported this month on two free federally funded nonprofit tech training programs; one shut down after only 13 months, and the other got high placement rates and expanded to other states. By delving into both cases, the Times seeks to explain the difference: a key factor—local knowledge— matters.
First, the failure case: In early 2017, Seattle Central College, the city’s first community college, began offering free, federally funded coding classes. Partnering with LaunchCode, a St. Louis, Missouri–based nonprofit, the program aimed to train 700 people over four years and place students in paid apprenticeships in Seattle tech companies that needed new employees. But barely over a year into the program, only four students were placed in apprenticeships, and the program was shut down after spending $1 million of the $3.8 million in grant money.
These low job placement rates are actually common among tech training programs, especially among those that are tuition-based. TechBeacon found that 17 of 24 for-profit programs claimed that 90 percent or more of their students got full-time programming jobs or freelancing positions within six to 12 months of graduation, but that those numbers can be misleading, as very few for-profit boot camps accurately track and report outcomes. In recent years, there has been a student backlash against these expensive for-profit programs that often charge upwards of $15,000 in tuition costs, with very little return in job placement. Two major players in the tuition-based programs, Dev Bootcamp and IronYard, closed in 2017 amid low placement numbers, and Bloomberg reported in 2016 that many employers don’t feel that coding bootcamps teach the technology skills needed for real-time employment.
Google’s director of education and university relations, Maggie Johnson, told Bloomberg, “Our experience has found that most graduates from these programs are not quite prepared for software engineering roles at Google without additional training or previous programming roles in the industry.” “We generally don’t hire from coding schools,” said Robyn Blum, a spokeswoman for Cisco told the news outlet.
LaunchCode, for its part, acknowledges it fell short. “With respect to way we trained people, it simply isn’t good enough for junior-level developer jobs in Seattle,” said Jeffrey Mazur, LaunchCode’s executive director. “That’s strictly a function of the job market in Seattle.” But statistics show that this problem exists not just in Seattle, but also for many of the for-profit tech training programs.
But not all programs fail. Apprenti, another Seattle-based program, was funded by the Obama-era Department of Labor, and the Seattle Times reports that it has done very well, placing 220 people in registered apprenticeships in 18 months. It’s run by the Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA) Workforce Institute, a trade association of 800 large and small Washington tech firms, including the region’s heavy hitters, such as Microsoft, Amazon, T-Mobile and Expedia. “The program was successful because it was able to draw on its network to craft the apprenticeships, and knew what local employers wanted,” Jennifer Carlson, WTIA Workforce Institute’s executive director, told the Times.
Elearning Inside News reports that nonprofit tech training programs are viable alternatives to the private institutions that often charge well over $10,000 for the price of admission. Detroit At Work, a city-based training initiative that seeks to foster development, partnered together Grand Circus, a computer software training organization and Meridian, a healthcare company to create The Meridian Bootcamp, a free coding training program that will hire students directly from the bootcamp to Meridian.
In Chicago, as part of Apple’s Everyone Can Code initiative, an iOS bootcamp was created as a collaboration between Apple and the City Colleges of Chicago that gives free training in Swift, the language in which iOS