In a move to fight social and workplace inequity in the technology sector, Englewood’s Kennedy-King College has created its Tech Launchpad program.
The program offers courses and short-term certification classes in cybersecurity, software development and game design and development.
“While opportunities in tech are lucrative, women, African-Americans, Latinx and other underserved populations are grossly underrepresented within the IT sector,” Kennedy-King President Gregory Thomas said Monday.
According to a January 2021 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 6.2% of U.S. software developers are Black, while only 3.7% of web developers are Black. Hispanics or Latinos fare slightly better, but still make up only 5.9% of both departments of the technology sector.
“Those are shameful statistics that we have to turn around,” said Mayor Lori Lightfoot at the program’s official launch Monday. “I’m determined to create and support initiatives like this one that disrupt this trend and open up the doors of opportunity to all.”
The college serves nearly 5,000 students annually, with 77% of those students identifying as Black and 14% as Latinx, according to Vice President Eddie Phillips.
Tech Launchpad has its roots in a pilot program started two years ago in response to the apparent technology inequity, including the “lack of access to technology or poor performing technology in our homes,” Phillips said.
That pilot program has since served 75 students. Tech Launchpad’s goal is to help 600 students over the next three years.
The program is funded in part by a $1 million donation from SDI Presence, an information-technology consulting firm.
“Talent is universal, but opportunity is not,” said David Gupta, CEO and founder of SDI.
“We have the opportunity to provide financial gifts in order to advance the program (and) provide mentoring to the students that are in this program,” said Gupta.
Adam Sayre, 28, received his cybersecurity certification and is now working as an intern at Power Construction, an opportunity he wouldn’t have without Tech Launchpad.
“They offered a fantastic learning environment and I think I’m going to use that to help myself with further certifications to advance my career,” said Sayre. He wants to remain in network engineering, and thanks to the certification he earned through Tech Launchpad, he’ll have a better chance to achieve that dream.
Lightfoot said more than 11,300 jobs are open in software development, and another 7,200 in computer-related occupations in Chicago.
As part of the pandemic recovery, Lightfoot said it is critical that recruiters invest time in looking for talent from South side neighborhoods.
“We cannot afford to leave any talent, any neighborhood, any community behind if we truly want to recover from the economic throws that beset us as a result of the COVID-19 economic meltdown,” Lightfoot said.
Cheyanne M. Daniels is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.