Technology is reshaping our world in ways previous generations could never have imagined (think drone delivery). Much of this change has been positive, but there’s a huge downside: income inequality. Although some communities boast concentrated tech talent and commerce, others fall far behind.
We know that tech-boom cities have recently experienced a historic redistribution of wealth. An analysis from Brookings, for instance, shows that the median sale price for San Francisco homes jumped by an astounding $250,000 between 2014 and 2016.
At the same time, low-income households within these cities didn’t see income increases at all. The boom was promising, but the rising tide didn’t lift all boats.
What Tech Skilling Can Do
Extreme wealth concentration is disruptive for the entire economy because of its ripple effects on factors such as labor and housing markets. Besides this, it also limits access to healthcare, education, and job opportunities. There’s no use returning to a pre-internet society, though, as technology benefits billions globally. We should seek the best of both worlds instead: continued technological progress and greater income equality.
Fortunately, there is a way to achieve this. What if you could place a significant number of workers in your city making $30,000 a year into jobs paying $82,000 — the median salary for a computer programmer? With all the new resources for tech education, this idea isn’t so far-fetched. Coding boot camps represent a $240 million industry, and they graduated around 20,000 students last year.
These boot camps allow anyone to study relevant skills on their own time so they can dive headfirst into the tech world. Unlike other lucrative professions such as medicine or law, a career in tech is widely accessible: Boot camps remove daunting barriers and prepare students for a fraction of what a traditional degree costs.
Tech skills are useful where people already work, too. Many industries are becoming increasingly reliant on technology, and workers who are able to move into skilled roles that require tech knowledge will benefit from higher incomes and upward mobility. This is critical as our economy becomes more knowledge-based and automation looms.
Building Better Tech Training
The lesson here is clear. If your city can’t provide local tech talent, inequalities could worsen, and companies will likely gravitate toward larger talent pools. Local governments, then, should build talent pipelines for workers eager to launch their careers in technology and stay ahead in a shifting economy. Here are three ways cities can start:
1. Focus on accessibility.
People need realistic pathways for earning their tech chops.
Cities traditionally rely on four-year universities to turn out their skilled tech workers. This is a lengthy, expensive model, not to mention a high hurdle for those wanting a career switch. Besides this, daily responsibilities — child care, current jobs, and other related tasks — can stand in the way of higher education for many workers.
Look for programs that meet learners where they are in their lives. Part-time tech training is the most accessible option, but programs should also be priced fairly (or better yet, free) and have customizable elements.
2. Foster employer connections.
Though career retraining for a lifetime is always useful, cities should home in on specific success metrics for their programs. Instead of assuming open-ended program results, strive to place workers in specific jobs.
Create or sponsor training programs with curricula shaped by employer demand, and partner with local companies to create tangible pathways toward employment. This ensures trained workers can find jobs and that local companies will have people to fill specific roles.
Build bridges to those companies now. Those with vision will see the massive opportunity and should be glad to get on board.
3. Stay community-based.
It’s best to keep things familiar, so make sure your training programs are in the heart of the community and are led by people who live around the area. When students and teachers share commonalities, it creates an atmosphere of trust and credibility. It also means they’re likely to run into each other down the road as they move on with their careers and lives.
Keeping things local also allows companies to tap homegrown talent pools, which helps keep the income and other economic gains in your city. This has a cumulative, momentum-building effect — and it’s how cities become innovation hubs in their own right.
Tech training has the power to reduce inequality and bring a wealth of benefits to cities, but this is only made possible through smart partnerships between local governments and private companies. Be part of the change, and start creating those connections with training programs and regional companies as soon as you can.
Technological change happens quickly, and training the next wave of tech workers should be no different. Your city can undergo a renaissance, but it has to start planning for a new generation of local talent now.