Written by: Barry Waldman
Even prior to COVID’s work-at-home revolution, the distinction between tech jobs and other kinds of employment was disappearing. Most jobs today, including nearly all professional and office jobs, require tech skills. Indeed, just doing a job search requires an understanding of how to use LinkedIn and Monster.com, create digital files, upload and download applications, and more. There is no longer a distinct tech economy: the economy is a tech economy.
It has long been clear and was further illuminated during COVID that many racial and ethnic minorities are being left behind by the digital revolution. Barriers to access and knowledge have prevented people of color from participating fully. Now a national employer with a local presence is investing in historically black colleges (HBCUs) to support the job search and job success of today’s Black college students. South Carolina State University and Allen University have secured spots among the first 20 schools joining this program. The hope is that all 107 HBCUs, including Claflin University, Vorhees College, Morris College, and Benedict College – South Carolina’s other HBCUs – will soon join them.
The implications for the workforce in the Lowcountry could be significant, particularly in light of efforts to diversify the job market here. “We need everybody,” said Nina Magnesson, Catalyst for Citizenship & Social Innovation at BoomTown, the Charleston-based real estate marketing technology company. She noted that a 2017 study found diverse workplaces produced 19% more revenue. “We need a diverse workforce for its diversity of perspectives and experiences,” Magnesson said.
In February, Google and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund announced their Grow with Google HBCU Readiness Program to train 20,000 HBCU students in digital skills necessary to navigate a successful job search and thrive in today’s workplace. The program works through career placement offices at the 20 HBCUs piloting the program this year, enhancing the skills of students and career counselors through a series of modules on job search and job success.
Using Technology to Find and Keep Jobs
The two courses are designed to steer students through the job search and employment success using Google tools like Google documents, calendar, and project management. The job search course offers seven modules about tools to widen the net of prospective employers, create a job search plan, track progress with data, write a keyword-rich resume, network online and prepare for an interview.
The second course, also seven modules, trains students in scheduling and collaborating with Google tools, execute successful meetings, manage projects, create budgets, make presentations, and more.
“Google’s investment will help our institutions leverage technology to improve their ability to attract, nurture and grow talent, which ultimately empowers our students to find opportunities that might not otherwise have been available to them,” said Dr. Michael Lomax, president, and CEO of the United Negro College Fund.
An Economic Development Issue
Schools applied for the grants, earning them with plans to use the funds and meet key performance indicators leading to improved career placements. Funding is also being used by schools to provide scholarships and purchase new technology. Already 2,839 students and 150 career counselors are actively engaged in the courses. The Thurgood Marshall College Fund will tally results after the spring semester to determine how to move forward. Ultimately Pathways to Tech’s goal is to train 100,000 HBCU students.
Martinique Thompson, Vice President of Talent Acquisition and Campus Relations for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund notes the disproportionate economic impact of Covid on people of color. One survey found that Black (48%) and Hispanic adults (44%) were more likely than white adults (26%) to say they cannot pay some bills or can only make partial payments, as a result of Covid’s financial fallout.
“We are getting ahead of that for students of color by equipping them with knowledge and skills that they need to avoid being affected. If the economy crashes again, our students will have tools so they are not as impacted,” she said.
Equitable Digital Access in the Lowcountry
Despite Charleston’s impressive economic rebound, the digital tools necessary to navigate the current situation have eluded some local communities. One-quarter of the state’s households with children lack reliable internet access, including 35% of Black households and two-thirds of Hispanic households.
The Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative, which convenes organizations and stakeholders to close the academic achievement gap for all children, has responded to the unequal level of access to broadband service and its impact on students attending school online. It has established an Equitable Digital Access coalition, bringing together a wide swath of community influencers to create a unified, measurable agenda to boost technology availability and adoption in low-income rural and urban neighborhoods. Among the benchmarks are providing affordable broadband service, availability of internet-enabled devices, and widespread digital literacy training.
The coalition has developed a strategic plan and initiated a pilot project in partnership with the Rosemount neighborhood in The Neck area to improve access and achieve its other goals. Coalition members – 28 diverse individuals and organizations from across the region – hope to learn from this first project and then export it to other area communities. “This is not a short-term play,” said Phyllis Martin, CEO of Tri-County Cradle to Career. “I can’t emphasize this enough.”
Martin believes the success of efforts to universalize access to what has become a utility will define the region. “Do we have the will as a community to address digital access? We can’t just put a BandAid on it.”