Fourteen thousand unfilled jobs.
That was the number Dr. Kevin Johnson found when he looked into the market for tech jobs in Philadelphia. The data comes from Burning Glass Technologies via the White House’s TechHire Initiative.
Johnson couldn’t get over that. The 41-year-old new CEO of North Philly’s Philadelphia Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC), he knew he wanted to develop new job training programs for the 51-year-old workforce development nonprofit and when he looked at the stats, it was obvious what kind. A coding boot camp.
Backed by a $150,000 Lenfest Foundation grant and a $25,000 Comcast grant, Philadelphia OIC will launch a series of 12-week, free coding boot camps for youth and young adults called CODE OIC, starting in February at Parkway Center City High School in Callowhill. (We first told you about this last month, when Johnson spoke at Comcast’s first diversity summit.)
“I want my legacy at OIC to be that Dr. Johnson created the pathway for digital jobs for many in Philadelphia.”
KEVIN JOHNSON, OIC
OIC, a nonprofit with a $1.7 million operating budget and a staff of 28, will partner with Coded by Kids, the city-backed coding education program run by Sylvester Mobley, and Wilco Electronic Systems, which will help find paid internships for graduates of the program. It was Wilco EVP Brigitte Daniel, a friend of Johnson’s, who connected Mobley and Johnson. (Daniel went to Spelman and Johnson went to Morehouse, two historically black colleges that have a tight-knit relationship, so the pair has “a special kind of brotherly-sisterly love,” said Johnson.)
The launch marks a transition for OIC, which got its start by training Philadelphians in the building trades and clerical work — the kinds of jobs that were available when it launched in the ’60s, ones that didn’t require a four-year degree.
Now, Johnson said, the workforce has completely changed. And though OIC has been offering digital literacy classes since 2011, alongside GED prep and hospitality industry training, Johnson said it was time to take their digital offering to the next level. The program aims to prepare students for tech careers, with both soft and hard skills. The curriculum will be developed by the OIC, Wilco and Coded by Kids, said OIC spokesman Marlon Millner.
One unique advantage that OIC has? A pipeline from which to recruit students. It’s a struggle that Mobley of Coded by Kids has experienced — his adult dev boot camp, Coded by U, had just four students this past fall. They’ll start with Parkway students (Johnson calls Parkway principal Karren Dunkley very “innovative.”) and then, for the young adult class, they’ll work with outside partners and also turn to OIC’s pool of digital literacy students, of which just under a fifth are between the ages of 18 and 25, Millner said.
They hope to find 12-15 students in each class, Miller said.
The application for the young adult class (ages 18 to 26) will be on the OIC’s website in early 2016.
As far as we know, Philadelphia has never had a dev boot camp of this sort and scale, with the backing of a major local foundation and an established nonprofit to run it. The closest thing would be Mobley’s grassroots program and the School District’s Urban Technology Project, an apprenticeship program that focuses on hardware rather than software, though it has plans (and the funding) to move into the software realm.
And Johnson, well, he has a big vision for the program.
“I want my legacy at OIC to be that Dr. Johnson created the pathway for digital jobs for many in Philadelphia,” he said.