The first step to winning a game is to be a participant in it. The consequences of a continued under-participation in tech careers by historically marginalized populations will lead to a furthering of economic stratification and inequity. More avenues for participation must be developed and more people must participate for collective economic empowerment at the community level to take place.
This is the time to find innovative ways to get students of all ages off the sidelines and into the game. Too many people are watching from the sidelines believing that they don’t have what it takes to be able to get out on the field. Limiting beliefs may prevent some from participating when they have the potential and capacity to flourish.
There is a need for initial exposure to the multitude of roles within the tech economy and then for pathways to be created for interested students to delve deeper into their preferred area of interest. This will take both competent people and dedicated resources to provide some level of consistency and continuity.
It is important to note that everyone does not have to be directly involved in software development. There are various ways to participate in tech-related programming including robotics, gaming, graphic design, sales, and marketing among others. There are also transferrable skills that may have been cultivated in other industries that can be utilized within the universe of tech economy participation.
Getting people started and participating at some level puts them in a position where they can build momentum and gain skills that can qualify them to play at a higher level. Capacity can be increased after participation has begun. There will no doubt be gaps in the ability of people to play initially, but if they are given equitable facilities, instruction, and opportunities then their chances to be competitive in the tech marketplace are likely to increase dramatically.
Capacity building activities can also be embedded into the co-curricular and extra-curricular culture and processes of schools and communities in the same way that sports like basketball and football are. In sports, player capacity and performance are improved through coaching and practice. Skills are sharpened through camps, drills, and competitions.
Additionally, there are individual regimens and ways that people can work on their craft outside of formal settings. These are all ways that sports training methods can be transferred to tech. Apprenticeships, certificate programs, and other training platforms can also be established or bolstered to get unskilled or semi-skilled individuals the additional training that they need to be competitive in the tech workplace.
Critical tech courses can also be embedded in the core curriculum of school systems. The relevance of some existing required classes is questionable at best. A “Flintstones” academic program is not optimal for a “Jetsons” world. Development opportunities that provide exposure, information, hands-on activities, and connectivity to further capacity building infrastructures are starting points where people can identify their interests and accelerate in their chosen pathways.
After the initiation of participation and capacity building, there must be intentional efforts to open up the doors of tech employment and entrepreneurship. Exposure and opportunity without tangible benefits at the culmination of the process is not sufficient. Preparing people to walk through the gates of tech opportunity will be to little avail if the gates are locked. Beating down the doors with qualified applicants is the first step to nullifying the excuse of not finding enough “qualified” tech workers.
Economic development for most people means gaining access to a higher paying job, the window is open with tech for more individuals to do that and ultimately improve financial conditions for themselves, their families, and their communities.
A radical change in tech participation that is initiated and sustained would go a long way towards producing the kind of economic transformation that can lift individuals and communities into higher levels of educational achievement, social mobility, and better health outcomes.
Dr. Marcus Bright is a scholar and social impact strategist.