According to the Your Talent Your Future entry-level talent assessment, Georgia sees a higher unemployment rate than the national average and is ranked as the number two state for the worst economic mobility. The report shows how these sobering statistics are partly due to skills gaps — meaning that there are open jobs, but a lack of employees with the skills necessary to proficiently fill them.
For example, software developers are one of the top three most in-demand occupations in the state and has the highest projected employment growth rate over the next five years. But, not enough software developers are graduating from Georgia’s universities and technical schools to fill the available jobs — and those that are graduating are not from the low-income neighborhoods where economic mobility prospects are particularly bleak.
Accenture, the sponsor of the Your Talent Your Future report, is now looking to change that. They’re working closely with a non-profit in one of the toughest neighborhoods of Atlanta on a non-traditional technical education option to give a lift to the underemployed.
City of Refuge is a 20,000-square-foot complex located in West Atlanta. Nearly 40 percent of the neighborhood’s residents live below the federal poverty level, and it’s on the FBI’s Top 5 list for most violent neighborhoods in the U.S. (a total of 60 percent of Atlanta’s murders occur in the zip code). The 20-year organization has a multitude of programs that provide health services, food, housing, and education and career training.
And while housing and food are certainly helpful, it may be that City of Refuge’s education and job preparation initiatives have the most chance of breaking the poverty cycle. More than 20 percent of the residents living in the zip code are unemployed; over 50 percent don’t finish high school.
City of Refuge, along with corporate sponsors that make up the elite of Atlanta’s business community (Chick-Fil-A, Cox Enterprises, Coca-Cola, Delta, and more), has now opened a Workforce Innovation Hub in the complex “to walk with individuals on their journey toward purposeful, sustained employment,” according to the non-profit’s website. Along with office space (they even have a co-working option, the only in the neighborhood), the Hub will provide skills-based vocational training to give people the tools they need to become gainfully employed.
City of Refuge’s goals for the Innovation Hub are lofty — 400 job placements, 10 vocational tracks, and 1,000 students influenced by the end of 2018. This summer, with the help of Accenture’s Atlanta office, they’ll kick off a Tech Academy to hopefully funnel some of their students towards all those open, high-paying technical jobs.
The IT training program will teach disciplines like software and application development, IT support, web development, graphic design, and more. Accenture’s Scott Brown, who also serves on the Board of Directors at City of Refuge, explains that Accenture will not only help design the curriculum for the Tech Academy (the classes will be a mix of in-person and online courses), but will encourage their employees to be personally involved.
“We’re talking through it, but we’d ideally have our employees working one-on-one [with the students],” says Brown.
According to Jimmy Etheredge, Accenture’s senior managing director of the Southeast region, the program aligns closely with Accenture’s community initiative around “skills to succeed” — in other words, providing the individuals they serve with ways to help themselves, rather than just short-term aid.
“A lot of it is, how can we leverage technology to include and help with people that do not have access to technology,” says Etheredge. “We are very mindful of the need for more diversity in technology, so this is another way of giving us a chance to contribute.”
And they plan to continue that contribution — both Brown and Etheredge say they would look towards hiring some of those that graduate from the Tech Academy and programs like it. Accenture recently announced an expansion of their Atlanta office with an 800-person Innovation Hub, a client-focused center where employees will come up with forward-thinking solutions to problems.
The Innovation Hub will open in mid-2018 in Midtown’s Tech Square. Despite its placement on the fringes of the Georgia Tech campus, Etheredge says they’re being conscious of not only hiring those with traditional university backgrounds, but also actively seeking out different viewpoints. That could include the Workforce Hub graduates.
“It depends upon the kind of role that we’re trying to fill, but we are very focused on not only trying to leverage technology to help create opportunities for these people, but also hiring these people ourselves,” says Etheredge.
With more and more large technology companies moving into Atlanta with open jobs, programs like the City of Refuge’s Tech Academy may be able to help move the needle on closing the city’s socioeconomic gap and drive all of its residents on the path to upward mobility.