Entering the Tech Pipeline
Team Computer Glitz celebrated being in the top senior division at Technovation [MN]’s annual Appapalooza event in May. The team moved on to the semi-final round of the global Technovation Girls Competition.

Entering the Tech Pipeline

Nonprofits are helping young people learn to code and access good-paying jobs in the private sector.

Most people can’t get through a day without interacting with numerous computing devices, whether they’re working, shopping, entertaining themselves, tracking their health and fitness, or going to class.

All of our devices—and the worlds they unlock—have something in common. It takes software to run them. Someone builds the software, maintains it, and works on keeping our machines running smoothly. And that means that there are increasing numbers of jobs in the tech sector.

In fact, Minnesota added just over 4,800 tech workers between 2017 and 2018, according to Cyberstates 2019, a state-by-state look at tech employment. Tech jobs now account for 8.2 percent of Minnesota employment. The same report details the 73 percent increase in the number of jobs in emerging technologies like drones, artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, and blockchain. According to the Minnesota High Tech Association’s website, growth areas include computer system and cybersecurity analysts, software and web developers, and network architects, administrators, and support specialists. Further, the median wage for tech occupations is $79,924, or 75 percent higher than the median wage for other state occupations.

What are nonprofits doing to help prepare young people for tech-sector jobs? They’re offering an array of recreational computing experiences, software development classes, and workforce preparation skills training for youths. Because it’s likely that the young people you know are not learning to code in school (with a few exceptions), you will probably have to seek out extracurricular experiences to be sure these skills are in your student’s tool kit.

The Minnesota High Tech Association has a helpful listing of youth opportunities in the educate section of its website. There you can find links to organizations such as CoderDojo Twin Cities, Technovation [MN], and Code Savvy. All three of these nonprofits recruit young people of color and girls to their programming, helping to ensure that the new generation of software developers is as diverse as possible.

Nonprofits addressing workforce development also are paying attention to the need to build a robust tech workforce in the state, and they are providing programs to help give Minnesota’s youth the skills to participate in this growing employment sector. For example, Advance IT Minnesota and Creating IT Futures are both working to build career pathways for students in tech occupations, including programs collaborating with area employers who help provide the introduction to real-world tech careers. Genesys Works places high school seniors as interns in Minnesota companies. Specifically designed for underserved youth, Genesys’ track record includes an impressive 100 percent success rate for its graduates entry into college.

There is another reason for young people to learn to code: basic digital literacy. As a society we now realize that digital trickery allows hucksters, crooks, and foreign governments to fool us with fake news, altered images, and phishing schemes. One of the best ways to foil these 21st century ways of ripping us off is to become ever more literate about how digital devices work and how we can be manipulated by them.

Nonprofits are rising to the occasion on the digital literacy front as well. A good place to start is the local public library—many libraries offer free training, in structured classes or through online assistance from their staff. The Saint Paul Neighborhood Network (SPNN) is an excellent resource for media literacy and training, not only through links to the resources of other nonprofits that are detailed on its website, but also through a drop-in media lab, courses in media production, and opportunities for young people to create media projects for area nonprofits.

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SPNN also sponsors CTEP, the Community Technology Empowerment Project. Its staff teaches digital literacy skills in neighborhood centers and workforce development programs through funding from AmeriCorps.

If you’ve been curious about how a young person in your life, or how your company, can be part of the solution to our state’s need for a next-generation workforce of diverse, creative tech workers, nonprofits can help. Whether you want to offer a child who likes to tinker the opportunity to try new skills or you’re looking for ways to build the pipeline of tech workers for your business, ideas and resources are just a click away.

Sarah Lutman is a St. Paul-based independent consultant and writer for clients in the cultural, media, and philanthropic sectors.