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SOURCING — Address Equity Limitations of Bootcamps

Many tech apprenticeship programs source talent from expensive bootcamps that do not prioritize racial and educational diversity and inclusion. In fact, 6% of bootcamp graduates are Black, 8% Latinx/e, and 2% Indigenous. And 75% already have a bachelor’s degree, but are transitioning into technical careers.

There several ways to problem solve around the barriers and challenges of bootcamps being disproportionately unaffordable and inacessible to these underrepresented groups.

1) Collaborate with bootcamps/upskilling programs that are financially accessible

The average full-time coding bootcamp in the US costs $13,584, and bootcamp tuition can range from $7,800 to $21,000. Such amounts are disproportionately cost-prohibitive to underserved communities of color. Thankfully more affordable options and funding mechanisms exist, which we explore below.

Free, low-cost, or earn-and-learn programs: We’ve worked with programs that are free, programs that charge $250 for six-week sprints of technical education, programs that pay $2,000 a month to learners as they upskill. As we witnessed during the economic turmoil of the pandemic, it’s challenging to upskill or reskill quickly and full-time without going into significant debt — something that underserved learners of color often cannot afford. Programs that offer significantly lower tuition rates or offer earning-while-learning are more likely to be racially diverse, and can serve as great talent-sourcing partners.

Programs offering scholarships to Black, Latinx/e, and Indigenous talent. Many bootcamps offer scholarships to underrepresented and underserved racial groups. Following the murder of George Floyd, there was an upsurge in bootcamps examining how they might become accesible to more Black and other minority talent. One noteworthy campaign was started by Udacity to fund 1,000+ technical nanodegrees for the Black community in partnership with the public and private sectors. Career Karma offers a broader list of bootcamps offering scholarship opportunities to Black, Latinx/e, and Indigenous talent. More such collaborations are needed, and at scale.

Programs offering income sharing agreements with non-predatory terms. Income sharing agreements (ISAs) are growing in popularity as a way to fund upskilling for those who can’t afford to pay tuition upfront. In these agreements, learners pledge a portion of their future income in exchange for money on loan to pay for their education. While ISAs have made bootcamps accessible to many learners, their terms can be predatory, just as home and other loans to underserved communities of color have been historically. While the ISA space is currently unregulated, there has been a rise in lawsuits against for-profit bootcamps (examples: Lambda, Make School, Holberton, Elevate) accused of overselling their services and deceptively or illegally lending. Such practices disproportionately harm vulnerable learners of color. It is critical to do due diligence on your partners and ask learners directly about their financial experience.

2) If the bootcamp doesn’t offer scholarships, offer to fund them

This is self-explanatory. Have your company help fund scholarships for racially underrepresented groups. This can be directly built into your apprenticeship program budget and directly help diversify your apprentice talent pipeline. For example, Adobe selects talent and funds them to attend General Assembly’s programs in software engineering, user experience, or digital marketing via full scholarship, after which they are eligible for a technical apprenticeship with Adobe. This greatly boosts the racial and educational diversity of apprentice candidates, and ensures they are not all from more pedigreed White and Asian communities able to afford expensive bootcamps.

3) Work with programs whose mission is to serve Black, Latinx/e, Indigenous talent

As an alternative or in addition to working with homogeneous bootcamps, your company can instead work with upskilling partners whose mission is built around serving primarily Black, Latinx/e, or Indigenous groups, such as Ada Developer Academy, Techtonica, Knowledge House, and others. It’s critical to map the local ecosystems you’re targeting to see which organizations are doing this important work with these overlooked communities.

4) Design your program to be inclusive of other sources of talent, such as community college talent

Community colleges are the most overlooked source of racially underrepresented talent for tech apprenticeships. These institutions in our communities, disproportionately serve Black, Latinx/e, and Indigenous talent. They are also programs that are underfunded look at black tech ecosystem report. This causes many companies to assume that community college students aren’t as prepared as bootcamp students in terms of the right skill sets.

There are a few ways around this:

  • First, don’t assume community college talent is not-prepared. Reach out to their technical program and understand what the curriculum and instruction entail. Consider them in application cycles and assess their readiness in technical and behavioral interviews to see how they perform. Use the data you collect to make an informed decision about community college talent.
  • Second, work with a community college that is partnering on curriculum and instruction with a private bootcamp.
  • Third, if community college is not adequately prepared, consider re-designing the apprenticeship program to better include and meet them where they’re at. This may involve having a longer learning onramp at your company before apprentices join company teams. Or may involve funding bootcamp scholarships for them to upskill outside your company before starting an apprenticeship, such as Adobe offers.

Give underrepresented community college talent a chance.

Have questions or comments about the Equitable Tech Apprenticeship Toolkit? Send us a note.