Since March, five times as many Illinois residents have filed for unemployment as those who asked for aid during the Great Recession. On Monday, two tech advocacy groups launched an initiative to get Illinoisans back to work.
Named TechReady Illinois, the initiative offers residents discounted online courses in data and analytics, cybersecurity, cloud computing and software engineering. It’s championed by the P33 tech advocacy group and Discovery Partners Institute, a division of the University of Illinois school system that promotes technical education. The two groups worked with the University of Chicago, University of Illinois, City Colleges of Chicago and Illinois Institute of Technology to offer their regular courses for a fraction of their normal cost.
P33 CEO Brad Henderson said he hoped to enroll thousands of Illinois residents in the next few weeks, particularly women and people of color, since those groups have been historically underrepresented in the tech industry and are also acutely affected by layoffs caused by the coronavirus.
“Women and people of color are underrepresented in tech, and this has been true not just for 2020, it was true in 2000 and true in 1980,” Henderson told Built In. “This pandemic has just exacerbated all those historical trends.”
In April, women accounted for 55 percent of the 20.5 million jobs lost in the United States, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Black and brown women have been most affected by layoffs, according to the report, with more than 16 percent of black women unemployed and 20 percent of Latinas out of work. During the last recession, Henderson said the number of available tech jobs actually increased during the crisis. He said he expected the same thing to happen this time around.
“The reality is, tech jobs haven’t been hit as hard,” Henderson said. “This has made the challenges that we all need to address together, for people of color and women, that much harder. It makes our programming that much more essential.”
He said women and black and Latinx people often lack the social network needed to land a job at Google. TechReady Illinois offers them the additional skills, as well as the social support, to get their dream job as a software developer, which he said is traditionally a higher paying job in a growing industry.
In addition to helping new employees enter the tech industry, Henderson said the new initiative is also aiming to help current employees sharpen their skills. Programs on its website are listed according to foundational, intermediate and advanced skillsets. The current initiative offers 20 programs across the four fields, which can lead to 12 different certifications. Admission requirements vary.
Beyond the current economic crisis, Henderson said he wants to add more universities into the system, and grow the number of participants to “tens of thousands.” In time, he aims to offer the program to current college and high school students. He also aims to add more employers to the network, with TechReady Illinois students eventually serving in micro internships through the program, or receiving professional mentors.
“If you’re a kid in Pilsen, you’re thinking, ‘Well, how do I get that big job downtown by the time I’m 24 years old?’ It is a very fragmented town. We have a diverse economy, we have diverse institutions,” Henderson said. “We wanted to create more of a shared platform, something we can build together, something employers and universities can invest in.”