Interested In High-Tech? Training Opportunities Abound

By Kristin Sharp and Molly Kinder

New programs that offer the latest IT and computer skills have mostly trained highly educated and computer-savvy students. A few innovative programs are changing this paradigm, offering training with wraparound support to students from all backgrounds.

As a child, Shelly Schoppert was drawn to video games and computers and loved “the thrill of figuring out how to make things work.” But her parents discouraged her from pursuing a job in IT; so she got an associates degree in general studies and worked for 15 years in the healthcare field, as a respiratory specialist. “Where I grew up there weren’t many options and healthcare was one place where you could get one,” she said.

While Shelly was happy working in health care and loved helping people, she felt her career took shape “out of necessity.” She wanted training to break into a new career in web development, but didn’t have the financial means to take time off from her full-time job to go back to school. Her dream remained on hold, even as the number of well-paid IT jobs skyrocketed and employers struggled to fill positions that require the very skills that Shelley longed to develop.  

But last fall, Shelly learned of a pilot program that offered financing and support for a three-month, full-time web development training and jumped at the chance to apply. The “Learn and Earn” pilot program, run by a nonprofit social enterprise called Opportunity@Work, offered training targeted to the needs of particular employers, virtually guaranteeing a job to successful graduates. But crucially, it also offered a $2,000 monthly stipend in both the on-the-job training period and the post-training job search period, as well as social supports such as career guidance and a life coach.

Earn and Learn is designed specifically for people like Shelley—those hungry for new opportunity and eager to pursue new skills and change careers, but needing additional support and stability to enable them to take such a leap. They fit into a category we need to grow and encourage in today’s economy: people who know that taking a risk is the only safe way to go.

Opportunity@Work is not alone in experimenting with novel new approaches to providing support to striving workers in transition to new opportunities. One promising new approach in Springfield, Rhode Island is working to create Centers for Rural Innovation, informally called Entrepreneurship Centers (ECs).

Modeled on WeWork and other places for freelance creatives to meet up and trade ideas, ECs aim to provide a place for people working remotely in tech-based fields. They also seek to set up fellowships and on the job trainings for remote tech workers, specifically geared towards reducing economic risk on the fellows. In addition to being mentored in tech skills and business development opportunities, fellows would receive free housing in the industrial space within the EC. The program aims to spark new entrants into those fields simply by being visible in rural areas.

Here are some other training programs, with proven track records, in high-tech and other professions:

Per Scholas is a nonprofit that helps train and prepare low-income adults for careers in technology, using an evidence-based model with a proven impact.

Year Up is a nonprofit that offers a year-long, evidence-based program for low-income young adults with skills development, college credit, and internships with companies. The program even offers wrap-around support, including housing, child care, and income support as well as career mentors.

© 2020 Kristin Sharp and Molly Kinder, all rights reserved. Under exclusive license to Craftsmanship, LLC. Unauthorized copying or republication of this article is prohibited by law.

Published: March 20, 2018