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Becoming More Employable

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Delaware Nonprofits help job seekers and career changers build their skills.

The skills to work in a job are not necessarily the skills to land that job. Several Delaware nonprofits are providing training in both.

“I can genuinely say I would not have made it through my interview without their coaching,” says Holly Chaffee, a former elementary school teacher fromNewark. She recently completed a six-month coding course with Wilmington-based nonprofit Code Differently and landed a job as a customer support specialist with HubSpot. The people at Code Differently provided her with individual coaching on everything from her online presence to her resume. She says they cared about everything from her technical knowledge to her mental health.

Code Differently was founded to increase diversity in technology for people of all ages. Glenn Jackson II was almost finished with his Code Differently software engineering training when his son, in Georgia, came down with COVID-19. Jackson left to care for him, thinking he probably just ruined his chances. Instead, the founders of the program, Stephanie Eldridge and Tariq Hook, worked with him, and sent him links to job opportunities and training to keep him job ready. He now works for HX Innovations, a software company specializing in sports medicine, and spends his down time cheerleading for Code Differently.“ Tariq and Stephanie are the best part of Code Differently,” he says. “It was awesome.”

Job Training and Soft Skills
“We hear from employers saying that soft skills are so important,” says Patrick Callihan, executive director of ITWorks, a nonprofit providing free, immersive IT training programs to young adults (high-achieving high school graduates,18-26), who have not moved on to college.

At least 20% of the ITWorks 16-week program is rooted in those skills. Each student gets a mentor to work with on emotional, intellectual and practical aspects of getting a job and working in an office. Students also spend five weeks as interns to practice their abilities.

Zip Code Wilmington is a 12-week coding boot camp program open to all. The average age of their participants is 35. This program differs from some other nonprofits in that it charges $12,000. Participants must pay $6,000 up front, but there are scholarships and stipends available. The last $6,000 is usually paid by the company that hires the new coder. To help make that happen, Zip Code offers job placement assistance and connections to corporate partners with direct hire positions. The nonprofit also provides professional development training.“

They have access to a plethora of corporate partners,” says James Thompson, a data engineer who say she tripled his salary after graduating from the program. “Basically, [Zip Code] grooms you and then they sit you in front of [the partners].”

Jumping Into a Career
For younger people interested in career options in technology, there is Year Up Wilmington, a local chapter of a national nonprofit program. Year Up serves young adults from high school-aged to 26, who are often an overlooked source of talent, says Peter Lonie, program director. The nonprofit’s six-month program is free and sometime seven offers a $50-a-week stipend for students who qualify.

“We’re getting more and more students who don’t want to spend four years in college. They want to be able to jump into a career,” says Lonie. The program boasts a 90% placement rate for its graduates.

The technical skills are key, but it’s the extra help and personal caring that makes the difference, according to many of the students. As a result of their comprehensive approach, these nonprofit programs are turning outa product in demand. Employers are noticing.

“We are looking for people who are able to adapt quickly,” says Mike Harnish, president of KSM Technology Partners. His company works with Zip Code Wilmington. “This is a place that is really preparing these students to succeed in a real-world environment, and they’re teaching them to learn really quickly.”

Quickly is how soon the industry needs these graduates. Software development and coding are fast-growing areas in the nation, says Eldridge. Graduates of these programs land in jobs with salaries ranging from $35,000 to $80,000 to start. There is a lot of room for more coders, Eldridge says.

“Delaware has a lot of good power users of technology, but there is a need for technology developers,” she says.

Delaware’s nonprofits are recruiting now for their fall classes, and they are looking for people with grit and determination more than computer skills. One graduate described her program as “college on steroids.”

“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” says David Kelly, musician turned software developer and 2020 graduate of Zip Code Wilmington. “My biggest takeaway from my Zip Code experience is that properly applied effort can get you what you want from your life.

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