Rebooting our Workforce

Writer / Janelle Morrison
Photos / LatkaPhoto.com

Eleven Fifty Academy, located in Carmel, a nonprofit coding academy, is expanding its outreach programs to 20 communities throughout Indiana in 2016. The academy teaches the most relevant and up-to-date coding coursework, through immersive learning, to those interested in becoming a first-time coder, making a career change to become a coder or skilling up in their current coding role.

Their classes are offered at subsidized rates, thanks in part to donations from individuals, companies and unique partnerships. Their mission is creating an ecosystem of coding talent that benefits the individual, their employer and their community.

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John Qualls, President of Eleven Fifty Academy, sat down with us to discuss the various components of their outreach program and emphasized the importance of individuals, specifically the 16-24 age demographic, possessing the skills necessary to become gainfully employed especially in the software industry.

“The ability to understand coding is what typing skills were to our generation,” Qualls stated. “We have partnered with Nextech and TechPoint Foundation for Youth on this outreach piece where we will be going into 20 communities throughout the state in 2016.”

Nextech connects educators, innovative nonprofits and entrepreneurs to deliver programs that inspire and enable students from all backgrounds to pursue careers in technology. TechPoint ensures Indiana’s underserved K-12 students have access to experiential learning opportunities that inspire the pursuit of STEM careers.

“We saw that there is an opportunity to create a pipeline, and along with our partners who want to serve as part of our outreach, we will really be pushing this out to the whole state this year. When we think about traditional education, it used   to be about the three Rs: reading, writing and arithmetic. Today, the three Rs are resources, regulation and relevancy, and that’s the real challenge for educators today.

“The lack of resources, increased regulatory pressures and relevancy are their biggest issues. We hear from employers that students do not receive the relevant skills that they need to make them employable. When I speak with higher education folks, they want to solve this problem, but they have this overhead of regulatory and resource constraints. I see us helping to bridge the gap between the two.”

As part of the outreach program, Qualls and his team will establish CoderDojos in the selected communities as a way to engage them. The CoderDojo organization is a global movement of free, volunteer-led, community-based programming clubs for young people. At a Dojo, young people between 7 and 17 learn how to code, develop websites, apps, programs and games and explore technology in an informal and creative environment.

“Through our partnership with TechPoint, we are putting $1,000 in each of the selected 20 communities as a stipend for resources,” Qualls said. “Organizations like Nextech are actively trying to put curriculum into our state’s high schools and give the teachers stipends, so that they can learn how to code and teach code. We don’t want to create redundancies, so we look to partner with groups like Nextech and TechPoint and help bring resources and subject matter experts to the table.”

A few of the 20 communities that have been selected include Kokomo, Gary, Rushville, Greencastle and Huntington.

“We want to impact big cities and small towns,” Qualls explained. “We measured the impact that we can make and where they are economically. As part of our Indiana-wide initiative, we are also talking with co-working spaces throughout the state such as zWORKS in Zionsville and Launch Fishers. We want to promote, as part of our outreach, these co-working spaces because that’s where the next companies are going to come out of. That’s where our students are going to get hired.

“The best thing that we can do is to go into the communities and be a part of the solution that brings and builds mentors. We have forgotten how to be mentors and how to be a mentoree. The apprenticeship program that we used to have has been broken in the U.S society, but it is coming back big time in Europe. We work with Eleven Fifty Consulting and others to find apprenticeships or internships. The best thing that we can do is get students involved early and in programs where they can interact with others.

“We want to scale things online, but we are passionate about impacting locally. There are so many things that you can do online, but at some point, you are going to get stuck. Having that mentor or community that you can reach into and ask for help to bring the context and alignment to what you’re trying to do is the stuff you can’t put on the web.”

Qualls went on to explain the logistics of the outreach program and that it will include segments targeting different ages and skill levels.

“There are two Hoosiers that wrote a book called the ‘ABCs of Programming.’ We’re going to get 20,000 copies of that book and give 1,000 copies per community. The participants, geared towards K-2, will do an hour of code with Nextech and do this project online. It takes about an hour and will expose them to what coding is with themes that they recognize such as Star Wars and Frozen.

“For K-6, we will work with the Raspberry Pi, a $35 computer that is revolutionizing the world. We will teach them how to put the computer together and then load software, all in 90 minutes. CoderDojo will be giving the communities 10 laptops and $1,000 for the necessary resources. The state-wide coordinator, who will be part of our organization, will funnel curriculum, fundraising opportunities and mentors to back to the community as the continuity piece of the program.

“At the high school level, we’re doing Code Cram. This is a program where we bring in an professional coder and instructs the students how to write Evernote in 45 minutes. They actually show them the syntax framework and tools and write it in 47 lines of code.”

To assist the at-risk students and the unemployed in the communities, Qualls and his team will hold an “Intro to Coding” week for 25 people who will be sponsored. After the class, each participant will receive an assessment for the purpose to lead them to a potential “next step” in their professional lives.

They have partnered with Ivy Tech, and whether it is to take more classes through the Eleven Fifty Academy or register with Ivy Tech, the experience is designed to expose them to a career that they might not have otherwise been introduced to.

Qualls stressed that today’s students and young adults need mentorship, exposure and encouragement regardless of their geography and background.

“If you can do the work, you can change the world just by what is happening between your ears,” Qualls concluded. “All you need is good Internet connection and a computer.”

For more information on the Eleven Fifty Academy visit, elevenfifty.org.