CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — A local company is fighting to close the tech gap by training Black people with the skills they need to join the industry.
A report from the Pew Research Center said just 9% of people in the STEM workforce are black. It's even lower (5%) in the architecture and engineering fields.
Urban City Codes, a community-based technology training center in Cleveland Heights is working to overcome those statistics. It's the only black-owned tech training center of its kind in Northeast Ohio.
“We provide training in programming. We have our own coding boot camp. We have a cybersecurity bootcamp,” said co-founder Tondi Allen. “We have a cybersecurity bootcamp taking you from scratch to becoming a cybersecurity analyst. We have drone technology, helping you get your license as a drone pilot. We also have an IT support program. We have jobs waiting for every single one of those roles.”
Allen and her husband Terrence opened the center in 2020. They also have a company focused on web design, development, and social media management and for years, would help local black-owned business owners build websites.
“And then as soon as we walked away, they had all these questions and they were all related to digital literacy questions,” said Allen. “So what we were finding is that all of these businesses we thought we were helping, we weren't really helping them because they didn't know how, they didn't have the digital skills to actually manage the business. So my husband and I said, ‘Okay, we have to fix this problem.’ So we started doing tech training for businesses for the black-owned businesses. Then it became an even bigger monster when we realized that the entire community needs tech training on some level.”
Allen said their goal is to close the tech gap for Black people.
“Right now, we only make up 2% of the tech industry in terms of jobs and tech rolls and it really isn't good enough for our community. Because what's happening is all the jobs and all the positions are pointing towards technology and they're going to have some sort of technology component,” said Allen. “So what we did, we decided to focus on that because with everything going towards technology it's going to leave out our entire community.”
One of Urban City Code’s first students was Oliver Elie III. He is honest about his abilities when it comes to technology.
“What I've learned is that I'm not as tech savvy as I thought I was. That’s number one,” said Elie.
Elie, who works full time at a steel plant in Cleveland, said he mainly used the computer for basic, everyday tasks, but he wanted to learn more.
“I’m thinking that the future is IT, tech-oriented careers and things of that nature. So I figured I might want to get ahead of the game,” said Elie.
That brought him to Urban City Codes, along with Terewell Tankeng, a mom of three who started taking classes at the center when it first opened.
“I started off with cybersecurity. And it opened up my eyes to the fifth dimension, basically, the new world and what's going on. It really opened up my eyes to see what we're living in. Cybersecurity really opened up my mind and now I'm in the CompTIA A+ class. I'm basically going under the hood now so I'm learning the ins and outs of computers and infrastructure, everything,” said Tankeng.
Student and military veteran Keith Benford is also taking the CompTIA A+ training at Urban City Codes. The course provides a certification for tech and IT support.
Benford said he joined this past spring to help him reinvent himself.
“It's just the market. Everything is IT now, I mean, even to get a job you have to go on a website and apply for a job,” said Benford. “And even in my community, again with the seniors. I worked along with the seniors and helped to get them online to create just a basic Gmail account and do some other basic things.”
When it comes to learning those ever-important skills, Allen said it makes all the difference to have someone who looks like them teaching the lessons in an industry with such little representation.
“I would say it's a unique advantage because no matter what any other organization tries to promote, Black people do want to learn from other Black people. It's a fact. And there is something to it. It's representation,” said Allen. “With Urban City Codes, we have all Black teachers, all Black mentors in tech. All of our coaches are black, and they work in technology. So everywhere you turn, you have someone representing you, and they have answers.”
More information about Urban City Codes and how to enroll in its classes can be found here.
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