Bridging gaps in the technology talent pipeline in Atlanta
We Connect the Dots, a New York-based educational nonprofit, brought the UpSkill Workforce Experience Program to Atlanta earlier this year in partnership with Microsoft. Following the success of that initial pilot program, We Connect the Dots will continue to offer the eight-week workforce development course to underrepresented youth aged 18 to 24 in the Atlanta community.
Bringing a blueprint for learning to students in Atlanta
When Microsoft alum Laurie Carey founded We Connect the Dots, she had heard from countless partners across the country that they were struggling to find talent.
“Many students today have no clue what it means to go work in IT. Their perception of it is that they need a computer science degree, or they think it isn’t possible for them,” Carey said. “I wanted to change that.”
UpSkill seeks to address this problem. Already well established in the state of New York by We Connect the Dots, the UpSkill Workforce Experience Program comes to Atlanta with a blueprint for learning. The program is designed to expose its students to a wide range of skills and activities that employers value, and pair that with an immersive neuroscience-based learning style to help students understand how their emotions affect the way they learn.
“In tech, you’re getting paid to problem solve and think critically,” Carey said. “It goes beyond having specific skills because you have to learn new things constantly, technology is evolving so fast.”
Skills taught in the program include Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft Dynamics, SharePoint, intro to cybersecurity, WordPress web design, digital marketing, intro to game development, and more. After the four-week training period focusing on these in-demand tech skills as well as soft skills like critical thinking and problem solving, students are then assigned to a workforce experience partner organization to apply the skills in a professional environment.
At the end of the eight weeks, 100 percent of the graduates were either hired by their workforce experience employer or chose to pursue additional computer science education.
“The program is designed to expose students to technologies that employers are looking for, and really spark their interest,” said Executive Director Shauna Ruyle. “You choose your path.”
Microsoft funded six students to attend the initial pilot of UpSkill in Atlanta. At the end of the eight weeks, 100 percent of the graduates were either hired by their workforce experience employer or chose to pursue additional computer science education. Future cohort graduates will also be referred to the Atlanta Technical College Microsoft Lab program for the datacenter training.
“This program has taught me many life lessons that I can carry forward,” one UpSkill graduate said. “Meeting so many new people who want different things has given me an open mind to new possible career interests.”
Organizations in the Atlanta area work with We Connect the Dots to find potential students in the local population that are interested in and would benefit from the program. Local host partner Saving Our Sons and Sisters International (SOSSI) was a key partner during the pilot program. We Connect the Dots provides partners with tools, information, and resources to recruit people for the program. They focus on benefiting the underutilized populations—youth who are unemployed, underemployed, or out of school. But securing funding to help these students attend the program is a big task.
Giving students a pathway to sustainable lives
Getting working adults ages 18 to 24 into the UpSkill program is one of the biggest challenges We Connect the Dots faces. Many of the potential students that are interested in the program don’t have a stable financial background that would allow them to step away from their current jobs to make an investment in their future.
“Most 18 to 24-year-olds are supported financially by their parents which allows them to invest in themselves, their education, and their future. The audience that we are serving does not have the support system in place that enables them to invest in their future,” Carey said.
In eight weeks, the UpSkill program can help students earn one and a half to two times their current earnings and set them upon a path for a sustainable career.
We Connect the Dots needs businesses and industry partners to invest in programs like UpSkill, not only to help cover the cost of the training but also to provide students with a stipend to cover equivalent earnings to a minimum wage job while they are in the training and workforce experience program.
To support the We Connect the Dots fundraising, see the UpSkill Sponsors page on their website.
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