With an unemployment rate hovering around 9% and many industries still affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Delaware is getting serious about rapid retraining to get people back into an evolving workforce landscape.
This week, the state officially launched Forward Delaware, a CARES Act-funded initiative partnering state, business and education leaders to develop certification programs that take 20 weeks or less to complete. The news comes after Gov. John Carney signed an executive order allocating $10 million of the state’s emergency CARES Act funding to workforce development programs in August.
Some of that funding is going to Code Differently, the Wilmington coding education program that aims to diversify Delaware’s tech talent pipeline, for its Return Ready program, a multitiered coding camp and job placement program available to adult Delawareans — for free.
“The ideal candidate is anybody who is unemployed or unemployed and has always had an interest in tech but never had the chance to make the move, or couldn’t afford to, because the cost of going to a coding school is just too high,” said Tariq Hook, CIO and cofounder of Code Differently.
Return Ready offers full-time and part-time remote programs for “Newbies” — people with no coding experience but an interest in joining the tech workforce. The full-time program, which requires a commitment of about eight to 10 hours a day, lasts for 18 weeks. Newbies who need more flexibility because of job conflicts can apply for a six-month version that requires a smaller day-to-day time commitment.
The program also offers courses for jobseekers with some coding experience, in two tiers:
- A 10-week “Novice” course for people who have a little basic knowledge of coding
- An eight-week “Rookie” course for people who know the fundamentals of coding through previous classes and people with outdated coding knowledge who are not quite ready to be placed in a tech job
The classes are held remotely in real time, with group sessions, lectures, coding demos and assignments.
“We really want people, especially underrepresented people, to stop thinking that becoming a software developer is too hard,” said Stephanie Eldridge, CEO and cofounder of Code Differently. “We need to get beyond that narrative. When it comes to diversity in tech, even mentioning that I’m a Black female in tech, it’s like I’m kind of a ‘unicorn.’ This is an opportunity that anyone can take advantage of, and we have a strong support system to help people get through it. So not only will you have instruction, you will have a life coach, you have a relationship manager, and you will have a cohort and others who are just like you.”
A Code Differently summer coding program for adults — sort of a pilot for Return Ready — was a success, said Hook.
“We had 44 students going through our adult programming, and they’re all interviewing for jobs,” he said. “The vast majority have job offers. Not only have we figured out how to deliver this stuff at scale, online, we’ve proven that we have strong enough partnerships with employers to get people placed.”
One of the struggles jobseekers have during the pandemic is the belief that companies are not hiring — which isn’t entirely true, according to Hook.
“It’s not that companies aren’t hiring, it’s that the strategies and methods of hiring have changed,” he said. “With what we’ve already done, we’ve created relationships and pathways to onboard these people.”
One advantage of the remote program, as well as software jobs in general (which will be remote for the foreseeable future), is that they also offer a solution to an access issue with rural downstate communities.
“There’s always been an issue of how do we get jobs down to, like, Seaford?” Hook said. “How do we get these programs to lower Delaware? So here’s a little light at the end of the tunnel for somebody who is down in Seaford — they can now join a cohort for free and interview for jobs remotely, and also be placed in the job without having to uproot themselves and their families initially.”
Code Differently is currently accepting applications for the first cohort, which will begin Monday, Oct. 19. The program will continue to accept applications on a rolling basis. Space is limited. To apply, go to bit.ly/returnready.
“Don’t be afraid,” said Eldridge. “The time is now.”