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Jobs Catalyst program creates new model for developing diverse, homegrown tech talent

Megan Holmes

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James Faison is the founder of The Mainframe, a Tampa Bay-based initiative to support the growth of black technologists, professionals, innovators and entrepreneurs.

A coalition of local organizations have come together to form an innovative, first-of-its-kind approach to developing diverse, homegrown tech talent.

The program, Jobs Catalyst, creates a new framework for connecting diverse talent with the resources to train, mentor, fund and employ them with what St. Petersburg Group (SPG) Co-founder Joe Hamilton calls a community value chain.

The initiative was born out of The Mainframe during its work with Catalyst for Good – a program that incubates high potential nonprofits.  The Mainframe’s mission to elevate African-Americans in the technology space, along with the community it had already built, was the perfect base for Jobs Catalyst, Hamilton said. 

“Companies know that they need to diversify their workforce, they’re just not sure how to go about it,” explained Mainframe founder James Faison. “They understand the importance now, but there was no infrastructure before – our program solves that – we can provide access to a new pool of black tech talent.”

Jobs Catalyst provides value for every stakeholder involved. The program benefits not only potential talent looking to make the jump to a higher skill profession or a better wage, but employers looking to recruit and retain diverse, hard-to-find tech talent. It also serves the missions of the organizations that engage to recruit, mentor and support the candidates through the program. 

Here’s how the program works:

Recruitment: Jobs Catalyst will leverage front-end partners like the Mainframe and the Women Ambassadors Forum, Tampa Bay-based efforts working to lift up local black tech professionals and women, respectively, to meet and recruit potential candidates where they are. Those partners will utilize their own events and networks, along with SPG network connections like the Pinellas County Urban League, One Community and St. Pete Works, to find the right potential candidates for the program.

Vetting & Mentoring: Front-end partners will mentor candidates. The first job of the mentor is to vet the potential employee. Only suitable candidates will move forward to interview with corporate partners, who will decide – based on their own metrics – whether to hire that candidate.  The corporate partner hires the candidate at the front end of a three-month training program, paying them a living wage while they train. According to Hamilton, one of the biggest factors in failed training is stress. By providing income and a mentor during training, the odds of successful completion increase dramatically. 

Training: Once hired, the candidates undergo three months of intensive code school training with the Suncoast Developer’s Guild. The custom-tailored curriculum, developed by and for Corporate Partners, prepares the candidate to begin full time work as a junior full-stack developer. The target starting salary is $60,000. “As educators in the community, we look at our role in the ecosystem as providing professional development that empowers people to pursue careers that allow them to positively contribute to the economy,” shared SDG Co-Founder, Toni Warren. “If we have a diverse class, we help create a more diverse workforce giving ALL people the opportunity to help bridge the digital skills gap.”

Employment:  The Jobs Catalyst program delivers new talent to our local corporations. The program fee of $15,000 is in line with recruiting fees tied to a $60,000/year hire. Moreso, the corporate partner benefits from filling hard to find roles, with diverse candidates. The P.R. for program participation is an added bonus. The strongest value is in retention. “Growing your own” talent leads to much longer tenures with the company, which reduces turnover.

Corporate partners are likely to be eligible for reimbursement of the salary portion of their investment. “No single individual or organization or community is responsible for the success of the region, but everyone plays a role,” said Jennifer Brackney, CEO of CareerSource Pinellas. “It is our sincere hope that CareerSource’s involvement in Jobs Catalyst, in some small measure, helps make a positive impact on the competitiveness and prosperity of the region.

“Sector strategies like this provide an opportunity to connect workers to relevant training and education, and connect employers to skilled workers.”

Given its unique model, the Jobs Catalyst program provides two fundamental components that many workforce training programs are currently missing, says Hamilton.

“Two of the big problems with these training programs is that: First, if you’re living paycheck to paycheck, then going three months without a paycheck hurts. And trying to work a day job while doing this all-day intensive training program will crush you,” he explained. “Second, being alone, not understanding, falling off your surfboard without being able to find your way back up can be a huge barrier. By having wages and a mentor, that helps combat both of those two problems.”

The resources provided by Job Catalyst make the inevitable fear around changing careers less daunting, said Faison.

“It’s a scary move no matter how you slice it,” the Mainframe founder said. “We’re trying to create that pathway that has the least amount of hurdles and barriers. Right now, there’s no view of what’s out there. Talent doesn’t know the opportunities that are out there, and the companies don’t know the talent is out there.”

Joe Hamilton is the publisher of the St. Pete Catalyst.

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