InSync Birmingham
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InSync Birmingham

Ed Farm provides new tech opportunities to Birmingham residents with city BOLD funds

Ashley McGhee is a Shipt employee who is expanding her skills through the City of Birmingham’s BOLD program.

Birmingham, Alabama — Ashley McGhee has worked at Shipt for two years, where she assists retailers and drivers to make sure customers’ needs are met.

But when she learned of an opportunity to learn coding and enter the pipeline for technology jobs, she jumped at the chance.

“This is definitely a growing field, and I want to move my career in that direction,” said McGhee, 36. “I think it’s good to learn a new skill, and while it is challenging, I feel the reward will outweigh the challenge.”

McGhee began learning to code under a partnership with Shipt and Ed Farm, a Birmingham-based program that promotes technology education and career opportunities. In early May, McGhee completed Ed Farm’s 10-week Pathways course, which introduces adults to coding. Now, she’s applied for a followup program to expand her skills and her opportunities in the field.

It’s a long way from McGhee’s initial career plans of becoming a cosmetologist. But McGhee believes her career pivot is instructive to others. “I tell people no matter how old you are, it’s never too late to try something new and gain additional knowledge,” she said.

Ed Farm is providing this kind of opportunity to 50 Birmingham residents this year, thanks to funds provided by the City of Birmingham’s BOLD program,

BOLD, which stands for Building Opportunities for Lasting Development, is aimed at expanding economic opportunity for local businesses and residents. Over the past four years, the city has invested more than $3 million in BOLD programs, partnering with existing community organizations, like Ed Farm, that have a proven track record of success.

“The BOLD program allows Ed Farm to expand the work we are already doing to improve economic mobility for residents in Birmingham and helping to place more underserved individuals in technology roles in the community,” said Waymond Jackson, CEO of Ed Farm. “We heavily target people of color, women, individuals who are leaving high school, and individuals who have been in the workforce and would be considered underemployed.”

The program is an intense bootcamp that uses Apple’s “Develop in Swift” curriculum and introduces students to what is considered one of the most accessible computer programming languages.

With the city’s support, Ed Farm can help students overcome barriers to participating in the course, whose cost would normally approach $20,000 and is not covered by traditional college financial aid programs.

Birmingham’s support allows Ed Farm to not only provide the coding bootcamp at no cost but also to offer students a stipend while they are in the program.

“What we’ve found is that many people who could benefit the most from this training may have two or three part-time jobs, or a full-time job, and they can’t afford to take off 14 weeks to gain new skills,” Jackson said. “A living-wage stipend frees them up so they’re able to take this course.”

Assistance is also available for child care and transportation, and Ed Farm also can provide students with a MacBook, iPad and hotspot if needed to facilitate their participation in the program.

“We want to make sure that we’re thinking about addressing this from a holistic perspective,” Jackson said.

The city’s investment in Ed Farm also helps the organization advance and leverage relationships with private companies like Shipt.

Shipt’s investment in Ed Farm helps its own workers, like McGhee, gain new skills and move into better jobs with the company. “This is a way for them to upskill their front-line workers and provide them with new opportunities and at the same time meet their own workforce needs,” Jackson said.

“Shipt is committed to investing in the Birmingham community, where our company was founded and is headquartered,” said Khadijah Abdullah, vice president of Economic Development & Social Impact at Shipt. “Our city has a rich history, and it’s vital for us to cultivate a diverse tech community and workforce here. We are honored to partner with Ed Farm as they seek to enrich lives and careers right here in Birmingham.”

The BOLD program sets out to make sure that local businesses like Shipt have the resources they need to succeed — and that Birmingham residents have the skills they need for high-demand jobs.

“In addition to introducing our students to this technology,” Jackson said, “we assign career coaches to each individual, and we help them create success portfolios that will help them get where they want to go.”

Thanks to BOLD and Ed Farm, McGhee believes she is well on her way. “It has been tremendously helpful to me,” she said.

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