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Case studies: How can employers help underrepresented tech pros get hired via upskilling?

  • updated 3 mths ago
Philadelphia’s tech sector is growing at a slow-but-steady rate. But as the need for new and specialized talent increases, local leaders will need to continue to look in less traditional places for new talent.

And, in an inversion of the mentality frequently discussed alongside business diversity in general: It’s not just good business sense, but a racial equity question, as Black Philadelphians and other people of color are less likely to benefit from tech’s wealth. Businesses are increasingly feeling the urgency to enact change so their local tech sector better reflects the demographics of the people who make up their city or region.

The Microsoft Leap Apprenticeship Program, for instance, is an example of how a corporate entity is training underrepresented technologists. Launched in 2015, the program recruits and upskills hundreds of professionals from different backgrounds around the world. Through a partnership with more than 100 coding academics and bootcamps across the country, Leap graduates have gotten tech jobs at companies ranging from software engineering roles to UX design and project management, with some getting opportunities to work at Microsoft.

The Leap program makes it a point to recruit people who are parents who stopped their careers to focus on being caregivers; focusing on people who are changing careers as recruits and who may not have a computer science background but an affinity for tech is also a priority. According to a company spokesperson, Microsoft hopes to build a more inclusive workforce as a result of the program.

Since its inception, the Leap program has scaled to assist apprentices over 14 North American cohorts and three Nigerian and Kenyan cohorts. Of the 17 cohorts, 98% of apprentices work at Microsoft or other tech companies.

This work is happening locally, too. spoke to leaders from nonprofits and tech companies from around the region to gain insight on how tech employers can support the reskilling and upskilling of professionals with adjacent skills who are underrepresented in the technology industry.

This is part of a three-part series of case studies on diversifying the tech workforce. Read the first edition here. In part three, we’ll explore best practices for the attraction and retention of existing diverse talent.

Case study #1: Partner with workforce development-focused organizations training potential future employees.

Old City-based cloud hosting provider Linode’s work in contributing to a more diverse the tech jobs pipeline began with employees using volunteer time that was built into their PTO to give back. According to VP of Customer Support and Success Richard Myers, Linode employees supported Camden tech training nonprofit Hopeworks participants by hosting mock job interviews and assisting with code competitions.

A more advanced version of that work came after some relevant internal changes to the company’s own hiring processes.

“We started an internal training program and decided to teach skills” that Linode looked for in candidates, Myers said. “You had to have a computer background and we’d teach the rest. That led to an incredible, more diverse, dedicated support team that yielded unforeseen results.”

In August 2020, Linode’s in-house training team began devoting four to five hours a week to working with Hopeworks students — so far, five total. Linode employees found early on that they had to find a way to accommodate different learning styles and that a large portion of students were visual learners. For the first time, the Linode training team made videos to guide their lessons.

Being able to directly work with a company like Linode was something that Hopeworks Executive Director Dan Rhoton considered a vital part of the process. Hopeworks trains Black and brown students who may have a history of trauma and works to ensure that they find a comfortable fit at the tech companies that hire them.

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