Discovery Partners Institute aims to diversify tech sector
DPI's Pritzker Tech Talent Labs plans to increase Chicago's supply of tech talent and ensure workforce is representative of the city's population.
With startups fresh off record-setting fundraising rounds and established companies looking to expand, there's one thing I know won't be easy: Finding the tech talent needed to fuel the growth investors expect.
The hiring market is tight. In the greater Chicago area, there are currently more than 5,000 open software development roles. Candidates are commanding salaries well into the six figures.
It's obvious that traditional recruiting methods are not meeting the demand.
In light of these challenges, I want to introduce a new source for help: the Discovery Partners Institute's Pritzker Tech Talent Labs. Our north star: Increase Chicago's supply of tech talent and ensure these resilient jobs are filled with people who are representative of our city's population.
We will graduate our first cohort of 15 full-stack software development apprentices later this summer. This group began pre-apprenticeship training at City Colleges of Chicago March 2. It will conclude June 23.
Graduates of that program will begin three months of full-time classroom training and then transition to nine months of on-the-job training with a mentor at Cognizant, a Fortune 200 company specializing in technology and consulting services. Everyone will be working from Chicago.
And then another cohort of 15, also destined for Cognizant, will start and then another cohort of 25. Where will they land? We're working on that now.
About half of this first cohort are women and people of color—groups that have been historically overlooked and even excluded from the tech sector.
Our ambition here isn't just to increase our pool of tech talent, and, thus, make our startups more successful. Our ambition is also to diversify this sector one hire at a time.
The sector's long-standing homogeneity is a blot on an industry that has otherwise improved our quality of life enormously.
"It has implications for justice and fairness; it also results in devastating flaws in the industry's own products," wrote Tufts University's Bhaskar Chakravorti in the Harvard Business Review. "Consider unjust facial recognition technologies that exacerbate discrimination against people of color or virtual reality headsets—designed primarily by and for men—that could cause women to feel nauseous. These are just two examples of products in an industry with an insufficient diversity of perspectives going into the product design."
Chakravorti goes on to explain that the shift to remote work during the pandemic has opened up an opportunity for tech companies to "let go of their geographic biases and change the way they recruit, organize teams and allow employees to work. . . .We suggest it starts with meeting high-quality recruits where they are without being constrained by geography and identifying regions that also have suitable conditions to retain such talent." In other words, recruit them in their hometowns, and let them stay in their hometowns.
So where, specifically, does he recommend the Silicon Valley heavyweights go? (His conclusions are based on original research.)
Georgia, Texas, Delaware, Virginia, Connecticut and Maryland. Because they already rank high on tech talent diversity and are outside the traditional tech clusters of California, New York and Massachusetts.
If you want Illinois on that list like I do, then we need you.
We need companies to take on our apprentices, so that we grow this talent here instead of hiring expensive headhunters to poach people from elsewhere.
I want Chicago to become a dominant tech hub and challenge the coasts for talent. DPI is becoming a great place to find that talent. So let's talk.
Bill Jackson is executive director of Chicago-based Discovery Partners Institute, part of the University of Illinois System.
Source: Crain's Chicago Business