In a bid to open up tech careers to under-represented groups, Salesforce has paid out $5 million in grants to organizations supporting and training marginalized communities, such as former prisoners, refugees and underserved youth.
The funding has a dual purpose. Firstly, it’s aimed at increasing the proportion of under-represented groups within the technology industry; and second, it’s aimed at tackling the growing talent shortage in digital skills.
The extent of the tech skills gap is highlighted by the latest annual Digital Leadership Report from recruitment consultancy Nash Squared. The report reveals 70% of digital leaders say the skills shortage is preventing them from keeping up with the pace of change, while 62% believe organizations will never have enough technology staff.
Almost three-quarters say their government’s policies are completely ineffective at tackling the skills shortage, making it all the more important for individual businesses, such as Salesforce and other tech leaders. to take up the mantle of increasing the tech talent pool.
The $5 million in grants will be shared among seven organizations, all targeting different aspects of the potential tech workforce.
Next Chapter, which trains former prison inmates to be software engineers, will receive the biggest share. A $2.5 million grant will be used for expanding the organization’s programs to give people who have previously experienced incarceration pathways to high-paying tech careers, and increase employer partnerships. (We’ll be publishing an in-depth interview with Kenyatta Leal, Executive Director at Next Chapter, later this week).
The remaining $2.5 million will be shared by three organizations in the UK:
- Code Your Future to train refugees and asylum seekers for tech roles across London.
- Catch 22 to support scaling the Digital Leap program, which upskills and reskills unemployed and underemployed young people in London, Manchester and NW England.
- The Diana Award to support a mentoring program for young people to help develop their confidence in work-related skills, improve their overall wellbeing and increase their social mobility.
And three in the US:
- Per Scholas to expand its program for individuals often excluded from tech careers to Indianapolis, and roll out its software engineering program to 10 campuses across the US.
- Genesys Works to deliver college and career support to around 1,500 high school students from underserved communities, focused on the Bay Area, Chicago and New York.
- Enterprise for Youth to provide under-resourced young people in San Francisco and beyond access to paid internship experiences.
Selecting the seven organizations involves a lot of work, but that helps make the final choice easy, according to Ron Smith, VP of Philanthropy at Salesforce.
We go on listening campaigns, we talk to our partners, we talk to our former grantees, we talk to our employees and we talk to our community leaders about who's doing great work. We see who are aligned to our strategies, our values and our goals.
One of our questions is, do we talk too much, do we build too many relationships, are we going too deep? And the answer is always no. These are all great organizations serving the strategies that we have and building for the future. So the selection is really easy because we know they're meeting the needs that we're looking to meet, and they're serving not just for now, but it's providing opportunities for the population in the future.
Salesforce’s stated motive for investing in these organizations is to support people from underrepresented communities in the greatest need of career opportunities, those populations furthest from success, Smith explains:
Talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not. It’s not just saying we want to get everyone a job, but we want to provide the opportunity for someone to have a long-lasting career.” There's only seven percent of people in the world that have college degrees. How do we find multiple pathways for success. Investing in partnerships like Next Chapter or other grantees provides us the opportunity to be a part of the change.
While this funding program is aimed at those without a degree, that’s not to say Smith is averse to more people having the opportunity to pursue higher education. It’s more about finding a way to include those who didn't have the opportunity to finish secondary school, go to college or get a degree as they had to take care of loved ones or work to provide for themselves instead. He argues:
I will never say you shouldn't get as many degrees and have as high an education as possible. But there are populations of young people who had different paths in life. We need to provide that access, to say, you're talented, you have a skillset, you have real-life experience so let's bring you into the fold as well. We have to look at multiple ways to fill the ecosystem.
Despite the recent round of high-profile tech layoffs, this doesn’t diminish the need for these types of workforce development programs. As Smith notes, while tech companies are going through challenges at the moment, those in the education and medical sector are seeking technical people to fill vacancies:
There's always twists and turns in the economy and different industries. The pendulum will swing back. Right now, the tech industry is modifying for their future. We want to be ready and work with these groups to say, these skills will be needed, these opportunities must be ready. We must have the next generation of young people, and adults in their mid-twenties and their thirties, ready for those jobs because they are coming.
As the industry is adjusting to what's happening in the world, we're making sure we're providing a training base for those people who will jump into the workforce. We're getting ready for that future to come.
Furthermore, by targeting these grants to support underrepresented populations like African-American, Latinx and refugees, this is reaching people whose lack of opportunity is prevalent across all parts of the job market and could be impacted the most by the current economic downturn. Smith says:
They haven't had access, period. We are committed to supporting the group furthest from success and who needs it now more than any other time.