This blog post was written by Kelsey Perdue, our Grand Rapids Assistant Campus Director.
I believe that solid, rewarding careers make for happier people, stronger families and better communities. And I believe these kinds of careers should be accessible to everyone, regardless of background. I joined Grand Circus in 2017 because they believe the same thing, and are successfully helping people start rewarding careers in tech — a fast-growing industry with in-demand, high satisfaction, high pay roles. The industry’s growth is so great that there’s a talent shortage: there will be 1 million unfilled, needed programming roles by 2020. Still, even if you’re not in tech you may know there is a concerning lack of diversity in the industry. Not everyone is involved or benefitting from these great opportunities. With major challenges come huge opportunities, and Grand Circus and I are excitedly working to address both.
A little about my background and experience:
In college, I changed my major five times. I didn’t know what my career options were or which path was the best fit for me. When I met or saw someone I liked and learned what they did, I would consider that career as an option to look into. That’s what got me interested in law, political science, research and finally led me to education. This is the case for many people when deciding their career path.
When leading a classroom of students or participating as one, exposure to jobs was a consistent theme in discussions about workforce development — no matter what grade or age. When I talked to my 6th grade students about the challenges of being an NFL player or the importance of janitorial work, they began to think about their options in a new way. Their eyes were just as curious as mine were when I was a college student. Choosing your career path is an important decision. It’s extremely important to know what job options exist, the reality of the work and where one might thrive. It takes more than just job knowledge, though, to confidently make that choice. Seeing people who look like you or share a similar background occupying and succeeding in those spaces is just as critical.
At Grand Circus, I’ve seen many of our students struggle with something called Imposter Syndrome. This is true for a lot of professionals. When you’re a high achiever you often don’t think you’re good enough – despite proof of your successes. I’ve found this feeling especially strong amongst those from underrepresented groups. They face the possibility of being the first women or only African American, for example, on their team. This comes on top of the natural worries and angst that come with being new on a team or in a career. That’s why it’s important for everyone to “see themselves” and be supported in entering these spaces.
Project Rising TIDE was birthed from this need for exposure, representation and mentorship in tech. Our initiative has four key goals: to expose people to careers in the fast growing technology industry; to be intentional and hold ourselves accountable to being inclusive of different journeys and diverse people; and to break down barriers to education opportunities in coding.
Over the next two years, we will reach 1,000 people through Grand Circus’ introductory and advanced coding trainings. Our goal is for half of those people to be in underrepresented groups in tech. Half of our introductory trainings will be held at community locations. We know it’s important to be close to where people live, work and play. But going to people isn’t enough. We are also providing childcare, transportation and equipment assistance so anyone can join. Lastly, we hired a new team member who is knowledgeable about the community, relationship building and equity. SheThey will work with local agencies and individuals to provide information and support to carry this project to success.
We’re happily investing two years, thousands of dollars and a lot of work into seeing what difference we can make in people’s lives and the local tech community as a whole. What makes this project even cooler? The City of Grand Rapids is a partner on this project and elements of Rising TIDE are possible thanks to a SmartZone contract. Two years from now, more of Grand Rapids will know about the opportunities that exist in tech. Companies will have a stronger, more diverse talent pool to drive their growth. And we want you to be part of this. We host free workshops every month that we’d love to meet you at, so you can learn about tech for yourself. Bring a friend with you, too. You never know. Once you try it, you just might find the career you love.