Bridging the Technology Gap

May 7, 2015   |   Shelley Stern Grach

Good Work Chicago: Bridging the Technology Gap

Last week, I had the honor to participate in a panel at Good Work Chicago’s annual conference. The panel topic was Bridging the Technology Gap for Women, Minorities & Under-Resourced Communities. It was delightful to be joined on the panel by long term colleagues Sandee Kastrul, President and Co-Founder of i.c.stars and Emile Cambry, Jr.: Founder and CEO, Blue 1647.

Diversity and accelerating the technology pipeline for minorities and women is a critical topic. We began the discussion by referring to recent research by The Brookings Institution. Approximately 9.5 million people live in this metro area. The fact remains that the more you learn, the more you earn, and education is a key indicator of success. In the Chicago area in 2012, fully 44% of 19 to 24 year-olds had either not obtained a post-secondary degree, or were not enrolled in a post-secondary program. For those individuals, unemployment rates are more than twice as high as for their counterparts who were on track for post-secondary education. To compound the challenges, the Chicago area also has large racial/ethnic gaps in the share of young people on track for post-secondary education.

Under Brookings’ new definition of STEM, “A STEM occupation is one that requires a well-above average level of knowledge in one or more core STEM fields (Science, Computing Technology, Engineering, and Math)”. Emphasis on well above- average. And at each level of educational attainment in the Chicago region, workers in STEM jobs out-earn their non-STEM counterparts. This is especially true for those with only a high school education, or those with at least a bachelor’s degree. There continues to be a gap between the job skills required for STEM jobs and careers. And women continue to lag in securing STEM skills and jobs.

Good Work Chicago: Bridging the Technology Gap

In addition to women, we also need to focus on building STEM skills with minorities, especially African American and Latino.

Good Work Chicago: Bridging the Technology Gap

It is through terrific programs like i.c.stars and Innovation Hubs like BLUE1647 that we find tried and true programs—and people—who are helping close this skills gap.

  • ic.stars provides a rigorous technology-based workforce development and leadership training program for low-income adults, developing Chicagoland’s most promising information technology talent with leadership goals and connecting them with career opportunities through our social enterprise and our partner organizations. Using project-based learning, participants work in teams on a range of projects during this intensive training course and two year practicum. i.c.stars also connects companies with  graduates for full time employment.
  • BLUE1647 is an entrepreneurship and technology innovation center that fosters economic development in technology and 21st Century skills through people development (classes, workshops, and events around technology), workforce development (through youth and adult technology programs to prepare individuals for high-demand jobs) and Business Acceleration (through shared coworking-services).  BLUE1647 provides impactful individuals and organizations the resources to realize their ideas for a better world.

As our panel considered the challenge of the skills gap, we touched on the following key points:

  • We have a lot of great talent that we are not supporting broadly enough.
  • Kids are creative and need a “space and place” to experiment, and a responsible adult to help them recognize their own potential.
  • Coding, IT and the STEAM side of STEM are of high interest to our young people.
  • We really need to accelerate programs like i.c.stars and Blue 1647 to extend the reach to our neighborhoods and truly engage all our Youth in Chicagoland.

Many thanks to Jimmy Lee and Ann Healing of GoodWorkChicago for inviting Microsoft to be part of this important conversation. It was an honor to host the dialog with my colleagues Sandee and Emile, and we all hope this will inspire and motivate more focus on our Youth and closing the diversity gap.

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Shelley Stern Grach
Shelley Stern Grach

They say that great work stems from a combination of passion and commitment, something that Shelley certainly possesses when it comes to her life and career. She currently serves on the boards of the Women’s Business Development Center, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Thrive Chicago, Year Up and LISC Chicago. At Microsoft Chicago, she’s the Director of Civic Engagement, working at the intersection of computing and community, promoting STEM programs and using Microsoft technology to spur growth in the community. So no matter if it's work, play, or giving back, Shelley always makes sure her drive and professionalism help her complete her life's goals.