Kim Mitchell, vice president of program strategy at NPower, believes that non-traditional pathways must become part of the strategy to help women find stable employment. Through her work at NPower, which offers free tech training classes for women of color, Kim has helped thousands build skills to conquer industries like tech. The successful model behind NPower’s core program provides free tech training and job assistance to young adults and veterans in underserved communities.
Below, Kim discusses the benefits of investing in the widely untapped talent pool of Americans without traditional college degrees, especially women, and how corporations can get started. She also looks at how, with the support of like-minded corporations such as Guardian Life, NPower plans to increase its reach and enrollment of young women in its tech training programs to 40% by 2022.
NPower’s mission is to create pathways to prosperity and economic mobility by providing free tech training to young adults, veterans, and spouses with an emphasis on women of color and those from underserved communities so that they can obtain good-paying jobs in the tech industry.
Demand for skilled talent in the tech industry has been a challenge for many years. According to a CIO survey conducted by KPMG, the technology skills shortage is greater than it has been since the recession in 2008. Yet, 8.6 million new tech jobs expected to emerge over the next decade.
With significant growth underway for the tech industry coupled with the apparent skills gap, it is clear our traditional candidate pools – those that have received a college education – are increasingly not meeting the demands these jobs in tech require. NPower believes the path forward begins with tech companies embracing the nontraditional, untapped talent pool in the country, which includes young adults and women of color who are not college-educated yet have the skills and ability to learn.
Often the greatest barrier to taking advantage of this talent is people’s own lack of access or means to pay for skill-based certification programs. At NPower, through our free, virtual certification classes, we look to fill that gap through our work and provide an “experience where they are,” which allows our students to learn and grow in the tech industry with the flexibility to balance other elements in their lives and on their own schedules.
When selecting those to join our free, six-month tech training and certification programs across the country, we assess candidates for motivation, interest, and experience with related skills. We do not have aptitude or literacy requirements because we recognize that the larger school system has not served many communities well, especially underserved communities of color and that a measure on a test does not reflect a candidate’s ability to succeed in the program. Another way that we are working to close the critical skills gap in the tech industry and boost diverse hiring practices is through work with our partners – key corporations that drive our mission forward and that commit to hiring our graduates.
For instance, our curriculum for our three classes, Tech Fundamentals, Cybersecurity, and Cloud Computing, has been consistently informed by the hiring professionals at these corporations. They regularly advise us on the skills that are in demand right now so that we can actively prepare these candidates for success in those fields.
The initial program we offer is designed to promote success in entry-level tech positions and so candidates can continue to build those digital literacy and technical skills, but we also have intermediate and advanced portfolio programs designed to invite alumni back and help them continue their education. We are passionate about promoting a culture of lifelong learning in the tech industry and inviting our graduates back free of charge.
It is not just about helping people get their first tech job – it is about helping them thrive in their careers, pursue other higher-level opportunities, and put them on a path of economic mobility. For instance, 80% of our students either continue their education or find relevant employment, as well as experience a 361% increased salary compared to their former position.
Our focus at NPower is to help define nontraditional talent as an alternative to what has been determined as the normalized, acceptable pathway to careers. We believe there are multiple pathways to success that employers need to consider while selecting candidates, from the traditional four-year college route, the community college route, and then with certification programs like NPower.
In many ways, advancing our mission here at NPower involves educating the marketplace itself. Through our talented graduates, we long to show employers that it is less about where a student comes from and more about where they are going and the overall skills package they present to employers.
We promote this practice through working with our corporate partners, who we help deliver this message by hiring NPower graduates and welcoming them into the tech industry. For instance, Guardian Life, one of the biggest mutual insurers in the country, recently announced a $1M commitment to support and grow the reach of our programs and to empower the next generation of diverse talent.
The $1M grant will allow Guardian to serve as the lead sponsor for a new NPower program dedicated to upskilling and advancing program graduates in cybersecurity and cloud computing, as well as help develop new programs aimed at boosting opportunities for underrepresented women of color in the tech field.
It is partnerships like this that allow us to continue this critical work and continuously promote the message that when it comes to filling coveted, in-demand tech jobs, that it is less about what school candidates go to and more so about what they can do and bring to the table.
We also promote this ideology in our own house here at NPower. For instance, we have taken a particular interest in recruiting successful graduates of our program to serve as our instructional staff across our programs. Hiring those candidates reaffirms our commitment to advancing upward mobility and we will continue to provide our graduates with these opportunities.
Additionally, we are beginning to open the funnel and promote our programs to an audience of high school students in underserved communities. Our goal is to increase that generation’s awareness of how they could pursue a career in STEM without the burden of student loan debt and build a career through the experience of work.
Research from the Nation Center for Women and Information Technology identified that women of color only hold 9% of all computing jobs. This confirms what we at NPower already know – women of color in tech are the most underrepresented and overlooked for these tech positions out of any group or demographic of candidates.
NPower longs to uplift this community, and we are doing so by educating the marketplace via our corporate partners and helping to create opportunities to attract and retain women of color so that they can thrive in tech careers.
This is why NPower and Citi Foundation launched the 40 by 22 initiative in 2018 – a pledge to increase enrollment of young women in NPower classes to 40% and increase the number of female instructors by 40% in 2022.
If we want to achieve this goal as well as increase the number of women of color in the tech industry overall, we need to focus on creating new systems and structures to help these women break through longstanding barriers and institutional biases, and support them in overcoming disparities in income, opportunity, advancement and more.
Overall, having diverse representation at any business venture will yield better outcomes. For instance, research from Catalyst found that companies with the highest representation of women on their senior teams reap 34% more profits than companies with the lowest female representation.
Through our work at NPower, we want to send a message that being more inclusive with hiring efforts and hiring more people of color and specifically women from nontraditional backgrounds can add tremendous business value as well as break down barriers for future success and innovation.