Aug 12 2015

Nonprofits Help Fill the Skills Gap for Tech Workers

Alternative training programs bring vital technology skills and greater diversity to the IT workforce.

Try as they might, many IT managers are finding that they can’t hire qualified employees fast enough.

The White House reports that of the 5 million current job openings in the United States, more than half a million are in information technology fields, such as software development, network administration and cybersecurity.

The hiring difficulties in the IT field are most often blamed on the speed of innovation and the inevitable skills gap that arises when technology outpaces learning, according to a FierceCIO article.

But a recent TEKsystems report suggests the issue is more complicated. According to “IT Industry Survey: Exploring the IT Skills Gap,” the majority of IT leaders believe an unqualified candidate pool and mismatched skill sets are the biggest hurdles for hiring quality IT candidates. IT professionals, on the other hand, see unrealistic technical requirements as the top challenge for job seekers.

A Nonprofit Answer to a For-Profit Problem

Whatever the cause, the IT skills gap has grown so large that it has prompted the White House to take action. In March, President Barack Obama announced the creation of TechHire, a multisector initiative designed to equip Americans with vital IT skills through traditional and nontraditional training programs.

Participating in that initiative, the national nonprofit Year Up aims to give low-income young adults free access to training in desktop and network support, software installation, networking, hardware repair and other competency areas. Year Up’s training approach also focuses on soft skills, such as professionalism, communication, teamwork and conflict resolution.

An article published in the San Francisco Chronicle details the program:

At Year Up, participants ages 18 to 24 get six months of technical and corporate-culture training and a six-month internship. Then the vast majority find jobs with the region's top high-tech companies like Salesforce, Cisco, Yahoo and Facebook. The San Francisco Year Up office takes in about 240 applicants per year, while nationally there are about 3,000 trainees.

Those in the program pay nothing. In fact, they get paid $600 a month during the first six months of classroom training and $1,000 a month during their internship. They leave the program employable, making an average of $44,000 per year.

According to the nonprofit’s website, 85 percent of graduates are employed or attending college full-time within four months of completing the program.

That sort of success is mirrored by nonprofits such as CodeNow, an IT training program for high school–aged girls, ethnic minorities and other underrepresented groups; NS2 Serves, which trains and employs veterans in high-tech careers; and LaunchCode, an organization that pairs candidates with paid IT apprenticeships at top local companies.

Alternative education programs, like those offered by an increasing number of nonprofits, are changing the face of IT. In an article on Tech.Co, Tim Cannon says two- and four-year degree programs are no longer the only avenues to IT career opportunities; affordable training options have reshaped education and experience requirements for job candidates.

“The mostly white male tech workforce will be a thing of the past as a greater variety of professionals break into the IT world,” he writes.

But as long as the skills gap begins narrowing, IT managers will likely welcome the change.