LaunchCode is a nonprofit organization that creates routes to economic opportunity and upward mobility through apprenticeships and job placement in technology. LaunchCode partners with over 300 companies, ranging from Fortune 500 companies to innovative startups, and matches them with job seekers through a unique mentorship and paid apprenticeship program. Located primarily in the St. Louis and Miami areas, LaunchCoders also work in Chicago, Atlanta, Fort Knox, Seattle, Portland, and other locations.
LaunchCode was co-founded by Square’s Jim McKelvey in 2013. It has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, npr’s Marketplace, and TechCrunch for its tremendous impact in the tech industry: creating 500+ new jobs in tech, providing 3,000+ people mentorship and educational resources, and putting 80+ million dollars back into the economy.
Kari Fass, Portland’s Company Relations Manager, shared more about LaunchCode’s work in the community, its goals for the future, and what success means to her.
What is the mission of LaunchCode?
LaunchCode creates pathways for driven people seeking tech careers. We focus on diversifying the tech field and developing a stronger pipeline by supporting people with nontraditional coding backgrounds entering the field.
We’ve created a free education program for job seekers who are new to the tech industry and created an apprenticeship program for developers with technical skills who are relatively green. We introduce them to employers who are invested in mentorship and can support their success.
LaunchCode supports employers by vetting, screening, and coaching candidates so they are job ready before they meet our company partners. We save companies time and energy while recruiting and screening candidates by quickly linking employers to a diverse candidate pool that has demonstrated aptitude, determination, and passion.
Who is being most impacted by your work?
Everyone is impacted by our work! We work hard to serve job seekers, the greater community, tech companies, and tech-reliant businesses. Every company is a tech company at its heart. There are many employers whose end product isn’t tech but definitely need savvy, determined, and diverse teams to build and maintain systems.
Our primary hiring model, a 90-day paid apprenticeship that offers a livable wage, helps both hardworking candidates seeking employment and employers. Nationally, more than four-out-of-five of our apprentices receive a full-time job offer.
Candidates win because they get valuable work experience. They can build their professional network and work alongside senior developers. Businesses win because they get to interview and hire from a diverse talent pool, onboard a potential new employee before making a permanent offer, and provide mentoring opportunities to existing staff. We’ve seen how these mentoring opportunities can help retain senior talent and increase their productivity! I’ve heard time and time again how mentors feel appreciated when tapped to help new talent. They feel reinvigorated by the passion and curiosity that apprentices bring to the team.
What are you most proud of about your work?
I worked in higher education for 13 years, with an emphasis in diversity education and inclusion, with both traditionally aged students and adult learners. Each person and each family has a unique story, so no single path for entering a career is going to work for everyone. The more that employers and educational institutions can vary how they train and onboard, the more diverse their teams will be. We need a variety of solutions in order to address matters of inclusion, access, and equity. I’m proud to be doing work that changes lives at an the individual level, but also creates systemic change that can have a role in undoing generations-worth of societal marginalization.
LaunchCode is gearing up for a major expansion — what does this mean for the community?
The need in our country is strong. The Department of Labor estimates that there will will a million vacant tech jobs, nationally, by 2020 if we don’t determine new ways to train and develop talent.
In the Portland community, specifically, we have the opportunity to support the economic growth of so many more families through the growth of the tech industry. We are already seeing the impact of growth through the housing crisis! If we can create more entry level positions and make sure that people across the city have the training needed for those roles, we can move the needle on economic disparity and its intersections with race, ethnicity, and gender.
How can people support LaunchCode?
The most impactful support that someone can offer is to hire an apprentice. You’ll be mentoring great, diverse tech talent while likely filling your next vacancy. We also need volunteers to help with technical workshops and sessions related to job search skills, like interviewing and resume writing.
And, of course, as a nonprofit, we so appreciate our sponsors who keep our services in operation. We were able to expand our class to Portland through a donation from Accenture and Portland Community College has provided our classroom space. Our apprenticeship program is funded by a grant through Work Systems. This is definitely community work that we are doing and it takes a community to make it happen.
How do you define success?
I define success as doing something for work that makes you feel lit up inside. Whatever that is, it keeps you curious and makes you want to do better every day. I love working for LaunchCode because that is what we are helping people to do: support themselves, their families, and their communities while doing work that engages them.