At any given time in the greater Seattle area, there are roughly 5,000 unfilled positions in the technology sector – and by 2021 there will be a 1 million open tech jobs across the country, says the head of a leading coding boot camp.
That’s a big reason for the White House designation this month of Bellevue as one of 71 TechHire communities nationwide. The initiative has brought together local employers, government leaders, and workforce development organizations, with educational support from Coding Dojo and Bellevue College to facilitate training and hiring of local residents.
The collaboration between the college’s continuing education programs and Coding Dojo, which has campuses in Seattle and seven other cities, is key to the effort. The White House seal of approval gives the institutions access to a broader hiring network and a deep pool of federal grant money to help underserved populations – including minorities, veterans and the homeless – pay for their educations and connect with tech jobs.
“TechHire is about creating a thriving ecosystem, getting rid of the silos, to really cultivate a tech movement to get more people trained, especially the underserved minority sector,” said Coding Dojo CEO Richard Wang.
The Bellevue City Council has allocated $55,000 in its 2017 budget toward the effort.
“A shrinking middle class that’s barely earning a living wage is a big problem for our country,” said Councilmember Conrad Lee. The training in programming literacy, he said, will help local residents find higher-paying jobs so they can “stay in Bellevue and prosper.”
TechHire will allow expansion of a program begun earlier this year in which Bellevue College Continuing Education hosts courses covering in-demand programming languages and technologies, with curriculum, instructors, and access to the boot camp’s online platform provided by Coding Dojo.
Mark Veljkov, continuing education product manager, said it would have taken him several years and a lot more money for the continuing education program to set up a similar curriculum on its own. “Why would I do that when Coding Dojo has probably the best program I’ve ever seen?”
Given the government projection that 75 percent of the $1 trillion or more in federal student loans will go unpaid, there’s a financial impetus behind the TechHire program, Veljkov observed. “We have a huge workforce gap in what we teach in schools and what people are actually looking for. It’s one of the reasons why you’re going to look at a million jobs unfilled.”
In the continuing education program, the focus is on helping people get jobs through retraining, through acquiring new skills, he said. To that end, the college and Coding Dojo are piloting a program for highly skilled refugees to take the programming courses. Coding Dojo provides scholarships for these students while Jewish Family Service picks up the tab for their rents.
“We have refugees from Afghanistan and Iran, people who used to be doctors and engineers back at home,” Wang said. “They come to our country and end up in very low-end service sector jobs.”
In general, a skills-based education is becoming increasingly important, he said. “We’re in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution. It's augmented reality, virtual reality technologies, biotechnologies, life sciences, software, big data. Do we have the workforce to support this revolution?”