Building a diverse technology pipeline includes upskilling and training veterans
LaunchCode is upskilling and training veterans, transitioning service members and their families for jobs in tech with the help of the Berges Family Foundation
Technology is changing the way we do business
It is no secret that technology is constantly changing the way we interact with our world and the way companies do business. As a tech nonprofit adding entry-level technical talent to tech ecosystems, LaunchCode has a pulse on the evolving digital workforce landscape.
According to EMSI Labor Statistics for the STL metro area, in an average month between January and December 2019, there were 5,085 job postings for well-paying jobs of Computer Programmers and Developers. However, only an average of 446 people were hired per month. This means there is approximately 1 hire for every 11 postings.
In late 2019, despite unemployment numbers being at a record low, the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program found that 44% of U.S. workers were in jobs that pay median annual wages of $18,000. And that was before COVID-19 made its way into the United States, greatly impacting our economy.
Looking forward, LaunchCode sees the significant need to upskill and train driven individuals to meet the growing demand for tech talent that traditional computer science pipelines are not fulfilling.
Partnering with the Berges Family Foundation
Through their “Support Our Heroes Initiative,” the Berges Family Foundation is working with a myriad of local nonprofits to support veterans and their families who want to learn new skills, to be connected to resources, and to continue to serve their community in new capacities and reintegrate into civilian life with a sense of purpose.
In 2018, LaunchCode partnered philanthropically with the Berges Family Foundation to enroll St. Louis veterans, transitioning service members and their families to our no-cost, part-time computer programming education course, LC101, and job readiness course, Liftoff. These courses provide veterans and their family members with the coding, programming and professional skills needed to secure an entry-level tech position.
“The Berges Family Foundation (BFF) supports the institutions and organizations that make Saint Louis a great place to live, visit, work, and invest,” says Elizabeth Mannen, the Berges Family Foundation Managing Advisor. “Our contributions help fund cultural engagement, STEM preparedness, youth empowerment, and support for our heroes and first responders. We are proud to assist our local veterans and military family members through LaunchCode’s programs. While considered a nontraditional group for tech talent, this diverse set of students is looking for economic stability and opportunity, and they find it at LaunchCode. BFF is humbled to give back in this small way to those who have risked so much for their country.”
Focusing on veterans, transitioning service members and their families
LaunchCode sees the impact of bringing new people from all backgrounds and experiences into the tech field and works to reshape the way employers think about hiring, especially considering how traditional education-to-job pathways shut many people out of the industry.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports that about 200,000 men and women transition out of the military each year and face the challenges of translating their military experience into careers in the corporate sector. As someone with veteran family members and fellow colleagues who are veterans, I personally know that these folks bring a unique mix of skills, leadership, loyalty and resilience to the workforce – skills that are highly valuable to employers.
And while the veteran unemployment rate has been at its lowest (around 3%) for many years, their jobs often don’t fully align with their skills and qualifications (33% are underemployed). When veterans and transitioning service members leave the military, they are eager to enter the civilian workforce and pivot their skills and focus, but often lack clear pathways to do so.
LaunchCode Candidate Engagement Manager Nick Rafferty works closely with students during both LC101 and Liftoff courses and believes veterans possess crucial skills that tech roles require.
“One of the top skills that employers look for in technologists is a willingness to learn. Tech changes rapidly and requires programmers and project managers to quickly adapt and pick up new skill sets. I worked with many veterans throughout the course and was consistently impressed by their ability to dive headfirst into learning challenging technical skills without any hesitation.”
LaunchCode board member John Beatty, a Navy veteran and senior vice president and chief human resources officer at BJC HealthCare, said veterans often don’t know what to do following their military careers. LaunchCode’s new course aims to bridge the gap for veterans and active service members to a new career, Beatty said.
“LaunchCode’s new course will give veterans a new start,” he said. “They’ll have some basic programming skills, be able to get an apprenticeship, and have the opportunity to build their careers.”John Beatty
Tracey Cannon, a graduate of LaunchCode’s first LC101 veterans-focused cohort exemplifies the perfect example of switching gears – leveraging military experience and learning new skills to enter a career she would find more rewarding. After a military career as an Army Reservist, she started her civilian career in administration and later ended up in public policy. She is now an Associate Analyst in US Product Delivery for MasterCard.
“My pre-LC101 career focused on policy research and analysis, adjunct teaching, and managing data and compliance for school districts. But after working in public education systems, I wanted to switch gears and chose LaunchCode after a friend suggested I leverage my analytical skills to jump start a new career.”
Cannon also highly recommends the LiftOff program in which graduates hone in on professional skills necessary to land their first job in tech.
“LaunchCode provides quality training free of charge, for truly relevant, marketable skills that post-military career veterans often need.”Tracey Cannon
A sense of community and camaraderie
LaunchCode operated the first veteran-focused LC101 and Liftoff cohorts during 2018 at the American Legion in O’Fallon, IL, and started a second LC101 cohort in May with over 65 individuals who are military veterans or family members of active-duty military or veterans. Currently this course is operating virtually in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Through this partnership with The Berges Family Foundation, LaunchCode has been able to provide the sense of community and camaraderie for veterans, transitioning service members and their families, who often need to feel supported and confident in their capabilities of learning new skills such as coding.
Nick Rafferty notes that he has seen some of the strongest sense of community amongst the veteran focused cohorts. “There is a level of respect and understanding between students knowing that they share backgrounds as veterans or military family members. This shared background removes many of the hesitations to help another student that we often see at the start of a new class and leads to success in the classroom and on the job once they complete the program.”
Michael McDevitt, another graduate of the first cohort in 2018 and the son of a veteran, also noted that there was a lot of comradery between the students and TA’s which provided the supportive learning environment he and others needed.
“I was inspired by how LaunchCode provided an excellent opportunity and environment for veterans to acquire tech skills.”Michael McDevitt
Another graduate of this cohort, Chrissy Balducci, faced many challenges in wanting to switch and find a career that better supported her financially and that she found more rewarding. As a widowed mother of three children (she lost her spouse years later as a result of his service in the Gulf War), she was without a college degree and felt she was stuck in her job with no opportunity for something different.
“I cannot express enough what an incredible opportunity LaunchCode provides. This opportunity has restored my faith and has given me hope for my future. It wasn’t easy, but this course will transform your life.” Chrissy now works full-time for MasterCard.Chrissy Balducci
LaunchCode is truly grateful for the opportunity to serve veterans, transitioning service members and their families through the generous partnership with the Berges Family Foundation and is looking forward to continuing this work.
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LaunchCode and the Berges Family Foundation have also launched a Veterans Speaker Series online in conjunction with these classes to highlight recent graduates and company partners in speaking about the unique military experience and how it translates to success in tech careers.