We need to spread the word about tech education opportunity in Ohio

Originally published by Crain’s Cleveland – May 3, 2021

For those 1.7 million Ohioans that have been receiving unemployment since the pandemic began, tech presents a massive opportunity. In fact, the state had 166,702 open tech jobs in 2019 — and that was before the pandemic turned households into business headquarters.

There’s just one problem: As distributed as tech jobs currently are — virtually every business, in every industry, in every part of the state is looking for tech talent — what aren’t equally distributed are the opportunities for Ohioans to receive the proper training.

Alternative approaches to education can help here, especially those that can be done remotely and give people the proper certifications in only a matter of weeks. But to really reduce the state’s unemployment number and boost local businesses in one fell swoop, we need to focus our energies on bringing these opportunities to three key segments of our population.

The first are those people who are currently in “dead-end” jobs, such as in retail or hospitality that, according to a review by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, may not rebound even after this crisis has passed. Some of them didn’t have the money to go to college and entered the workforce right away, others experienced a personal or medical setback that made the idea of moving away from home for four years a nonstarter.

No matter the cause, the bottom line is that the majority of Ohioans in this situation aren’t there because they are incapable of learning new things. They are those to whom life simply dealt an unfair hand, and who are, without a doubt, capable of contributing more to society if they are given the opportunity to quickly and affordably reskill.

The second are those whose personal attributes and identities have kept them from considering tech careers. Women, for example, only hold 25% of computing roles in the U.S. And where race is concerned, less than 5% of most tech companies’ employee population are Black.

Stigma and stereotypes are certainly at play here — and it will likely take years before those can finally be put to bed. But regardless of the structural racism and inequality that have kept their engagement to a minimum, there is a sincere need for their voices and contributions in this space. Increasing awareness and access to the tech industry will not negate the wrongs of the past, but it will go a long way toward correcting that injustice in the future.

The third are those who live in parts of the state where there aren’t any through-and-through tech companies — the more rural areas far outside of Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati. Because they lack proximity to companies wholly dedicated to tech, many such areas aren’t incentivized to dedicate substantial time and resources to developing coding curriculum and training programs.

Seth Boyle is a testament to the success of alternative tech education programs. Prior to the pandemic, he had a part-time job as a barista to supplement what he made playing music gigs around town. When he had to take a voluntary layoff, he found the Tech Elevator program and is now a software developer.

Imagine the power we have as a collective to change the course of our state. By spreading the word about the opportunities available in tech, and the ways Ohioans can land those positions without signing on to a degree many can’t afford, we can begin to overcome the obstacles created by COVID-19.

At the end of the day, the power to push for this change is in our hands. The real question is, what are we waiting for?

Hughes is the co-founder and CEO of Cleveland-based Tech Elevator, which has partnered with Ohio to Work to help Ohioans make the transition to an in-demand career in tech.

To learn more about Tech Elevator, visit techelevator.com

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