“Hidden Figures” is Happening Right Here, Right Now in Northeast Ohio

| Matthew Fieldman, Founder, Cleveland Codes

Today, there are 7.3 million fewer jobs in the United States for those with a high school degree or less than there were in 1989. Despite this, 6 million jobs in the US are unfilled, due in large part to a shortage of qualified, skilled workers.

We’ve seen these statistics and those like it repeatedly recently. There is both a skills gap and an employment gap that impacts the nation’s competitiveness, as well as the lives of millions. Advances in technology are often a source of job shift. Jobs in all sectors, including (especially) in manufacturing increasingly require digital skills.    

The kinds of digital skills required to be effectively employed these days can come from a variety of sources beyond the traditional 4-year degree. Increasingly, certificate, credentialing, and boot camp programs are becoming a valuable source for driving talent into the workforce. They, too, often come at a significant cost.  The result is that the economy is missing out on valuable talent that simply needs the opportunity to light up their latent potential. Enter Cleveland Codes, the nation’s first software development training program specifically for inner-city and low-income adults.

I spoke with Matthew Fieldman, founder of Cleveland Codes this week. He educated me on how the Northeast Ohio region has been able to provide economic opportunity for under and unemployed adults, as well as provide a new pipeline of talent that Ohio businesses have been clamoring for. The answer lies in non-traditional training, and a lot of coordination. Read more about it in Matt’s own words here.

— Adam J. Hecktman, Director of Technology & Civic Innovation, Microsoft Chicago

The second cohort of Cleveland Codes graduated in January 2017.

Like many of us, I was inspired by the recent movie “Hidden Figures,” which chronicles the true story of three African-American women as they struggle to work at NASA during the Space Race of the 1960s. The three heroines overcome segregation, sexism, racism, and generally being underestimated by those around them to contribute their talents in math, engineering, and computer programming and advance our country’s space program. But while this historic story of civil rights is moving and memorable, recent advancements in workforce development in Northeast Ohio are just as exciting and powerful as any movie coming out of Hollywood. Hidden figures are all around us; your company might benefit from “hidden” talent in our community.

Let’s start with low-income adults with no college degree. Cleveland Codes, a software coding bootcamp I helped start at Cuyahoga Community College, trains these individuals for software development jobs, of which there are hundreds in Northeast Ohio. As the nation’s first software development training program specifically for inner-city and low-income adults, Cleveland Codes is actively searching for “hidden figures” in Cuyahoga County who have the innate talent for long-term, successful careers in technology.

Cleveland Codes students – 40 percent of whom are women, and 70 percent minority – come from a wide range of low-wage, low-skilled jobs, but are united in their hope for a better future. Over 90 percent of students who begin the free, four-month training program have the grit and resilience to complete it. With 35 graduates from the first two cohorts working in local companies, Cleveland Codes is breaking down barriers and changing the face of our local tech industry.

Next, consider those with criminal records. Since November 2013, EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant Institute, where I serve as a Board member, has trained nearly 200 formerly-incarcerated men and women for careers in fine dining. Not only do these graduates have a recidivism rate of less than two percent – far below the national average of 40 percent – but employers are literally lined up to hire EDWINS students as soon as they graduate. EDWINS is making waves nationally, having been featured in ForbesThe New York Times, the Washington Post, and even winning a CNN Heroes award. Under the leadership of CEO Brandon Chrostowski, EDWINS has proven that if you give underprivileged people hope for a better life, and the skills to get there, they will rise to the challenge.

Finally, consider those just entering the workforce, or changing careers to pursue a better future. In my work at MAGNET: The Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network, we are connecting both of these groups to rewarding careers in manufacturing. In fact, based on recent data from Team NEO and the Institute for Supply Management, Northeast Ohio manufacturing is expanding at a rapid pace, with 10,000 additional openings expected by 2020. For local high school students, through the generosity of the Cleveland Foundation, MAGNET is adapting the best of European-style youth apprenticeships to the Northeast Ohio, so students can see and experience manufacturing careers firsthand. Second, for adults interested in manufacturing, we have partnered with the area’s community colleges to create customized, fast-track training programs. These affordable, intensive manufacturing training programs allow working adults to spend as little as two months in the classroom before moving directly into paid internships (and full-time positions) at local companies. For example, Swagelok has hired over 100 graduates of the “Right Skills Now” CNC training program at Tri-C into the company’s high-paying, highly-skilled jobs.

While it may seem like Cleveland Codes, EDWINS, MAGNET, and other groundbreaking workforce initiatives are working independently, the coordination and collaboration going on behind the scenes is tremendous. Our government, at all levels, is actively addressing this critical need; money and support are flowing into the system from the Department of Labor, to the Ohio Development Services Agency, to the Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation, to OhioMeansJobs, the dollars are being spent efficiently. Most recently, Cuyahoga County’s new SkillUp program will help workers maximize their latent potential – and their employers will benefit significantly. Organizations like Towards Employment, Youth Opportunities Unlimited, and our universities and community colleges are all at the table lending their expertise. With the generous support of the philanthropic community, including the Fund for Our Economic Future, our region’s economic development ecosystem is quickly aligning around, and focusing on, not only developing the latent gifts of our fellow Ohioans but connecting them directly to jobs they will love.

To find the hidden talent of the future, our region’s employers will need to think out of the box, tapping into non-traditional training programs – and non-traditional workers – to expand their talent pipelines. To fill the growing number of openings, more and more companies are hiring returning citizens, who not only deserve a second chance, but just might have that perfect mix of talent and commitment to become valued employees. We are seeing the increasing popularity of paid internships, allowing companies to “try before they buy,” while giving the employee valuable work experience and transferrable skills. In addition, companies are hiring people with special needs, thereby adding to that company’s culture of inclusion and diversity. Most importantly, realizing that four-year college is a luxury that not everyone can afford, more and more manufacturers and looking beyond their job applicant’s educational pedigree, and instead are evaluating their specific occupational skills, industry-recognized certifications, and general attitude in today’s hiring decisions.

We should all be uplifted by the stories of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson, as their perseverance through adversity is a model to us all. “Hidden Figures” is a clarion call to employers from all industries: genius comes in all shapes, sizes, genders, and colors. Is your company ready to see, and more importantly to hire, the hidden talent that fills our community?

This was originally posted on Matthew Fieldman’s personal LinkedIn. You can read the original post here.

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