Equipping the 21st Century Workforce: Event Recap

Last Thursday we gathered at The Port Workspaces in Oakland to talk about what it means to equip job ready adults in a 21st century economy. Our panelists made it loud and clear that it’s time to focus on capabilities and not qualifications. And at this point, we can probably all agree that a bachelor’s degree is no longer an indicator that someone is qualified for a job.

TechEquity’s Executive Director, Catherine Bracy, moderated our panel of representatives from across the workforce development ecosystem. We heard from program leaders Khalilah Harris (Opportunity@work) and Kira Hernandez (Rithm School), gained a policy perspective from Tamara Walker (City of Oakland, Workforce Development Board), and added an employer voice to the mix with Jocelyn Mangan (Snagajob).

In all of our events, we try to raise awareness about specific policy issues, highlight challenges that are preventing a growing tech sector from contributing to broad-based opportunity for all Bay Area residents, and point out where the tech community can play a role in addressing those challenges.

At this event, a glaring policy challenge came up in the discussion early: Tamara Walker reported that her workforce development agency only spends about 20% of its $600,000 available for training each year. Much of the conversation for the rest of the evening dug into why that number was so low, including that many employers and training providers in the tech world don’t know about these programs.

It’s also true that in order for the government to reimburse a training provider — like a coding bootcamp — for tuition, that provider needs to be on an approved list which requires a long vetting and application process. The governing body that approves these applications is currently over a year behind in the review process.

The bootcamp industry has run up against government regulatory challenges before. Three years ago, the State of California threatened to shut down nine bootcamp operators if they didn’t file for accreditation. Many of them still haven’t applied, and the industry continues to grow without much clarity around a regulatory structure.

We also discussed the role government has to play in getting the tech industry to diversify its workforce, or to hire more local talent. Much of the current policy solutions are incentives-based (like on-the-job training programs which pay employers a large portion of new employees’ salary while they skill up in the workplace) instead of punitive or mandatory. Is there a role for more stick and less carrot in the tech workforce development space? We didn’t get to a clear answer but it’s a question that will continue to be asked if the tech industry doesn’t figure out how to solve this problem on its own.

The event left many of us with a much better sense of the problem but frustratingly little in the way of obvious solutions or easy actions we can take now to make a difference. But it got our gears churning at TechEquity and we’re thinking about what role we can play in bringing about policy solutions or developing programs that increase the number of job-ready adults from non-traditional backgrounds getting hired into the tech industry. More news on that as soon as we have it. In the meantime, you can:

  • Check out Opportunity@Work’s TechHire program, including the local initiatives in Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose.
  • Check out Code for America’s work on Economic Development. Code for America is doing great work to modernize the government systems behind workforce development programs.
  • Let us know if your employer would be interested in participating in a workforce exposure program. We’re in the early stages of mapping out a program that connects local talent to companies, through site visits, 1:1 mentoring, guest lectures, and internship programs. If you want to learn more send us a note to info at techequitycollaborative dot org.
  • Express your interest in joining TechEquity’s workforce development committee. We’re forming member committees for each of our focus areas. We’re currently in the process of launching our housing committee but will be getting the workforce development committee off the ground very soon. If you’re interested in joining, send us a note to info at techequitycollaborative dot org. (These committees are for members only).

Thank you to everyone who attended the event last night and for bringing your questions to this important conversation. We were thrilled to see the familiar faces of our members in the audience and excited to host many first time attendees.

A special thank you also goes out to Snagajob for sponsoring the event. Your transparency, openness, and willingness to engage in this conversation sets a great example to employers in the Bay Area.

Get your tickets today for our next event, The Missing Middle: The housing crisis and the middle income critical workforce, on August 2nd. Join us for a conversation about how the housing crisis is impacting the most vulnerable among us as well as the essential professionals who hold our communities and economies together. This event is in partnership with Landed.