Chicago’s effort to grow our own talent

Englewood Codes
Englewood Codes Demo Day

In recent months, we’ve highlighted several efforts to teach young people how to code and about technology. These efforts have included Englewood Codes, Civic Summer and Adler Planetarium’s Youth Hackathon. Smart Chicago is proud to have supported these efforts and looks forward to supporting more STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) programs like these in the future.

It’s vital that Chicago grows its own talent. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, STEM jobs are projected to grow 17%over the next decade.

In Chicago, STEM education is critical to continuing the growth of the city’s technology sector. Currently, there are over 21,000 STEM job openings in Chicago with more expected as our start-up sector continues to grow.

Chicago is competing with every city in the country for talent. It’s not simply enough to try and attract tech talent, Chicago has to grow its own talent – and that means supporting local STEM programs.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said:

“STEM education is a critical path to success and opportunity for many students throughout Chicago, and I am supportive of any and all efforts to expand STEM opportunities in the city to more students, especially in after-school and summer programs.”

STEM programs integrated into Chicago Public Schools, like the ATG Group at Prosser Career Academy, provide valuable job skills to CPS and help serve their neighborhoods. Programs like Englewood Codes, run by the non-profit group Teamwork Englewood, give students an opportunity to learn coding skills that will give them an advantage when applying for colleges.

OpenGovChicago: City of Chicago Tech Diversity Council Discussion
Neal Sales Griffin speaking about the Diversity Tech Council at Open Gov Chicago

Additionally, programs like these help to increase the diversity of the technology space as a whole. One of the major points of Mayor Emanuel’s Technology Diversity Council‘s recommendation is helping to build a pipeline through which Chicago Public Schools and City Colleges of Chicago students can transition into the technology economy.

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Free Geek Chicago, Photo by Shara Miller

And it isn’t just youth programs that are helping to grow talent. Private code schools like Starter League and Dev Bootcamp are training new web developers, designers, and user experience designers. At the volunteer level, the Free Geek Chicago teaches not only web development but computer repair.

There are also meetup groups that help mentor and teach code. The Chicago Women Developers are a meetup group comprised of women who love to code or want to learn how to code.

The future of tech in Chicago – in terms of both opportunity and diversity – will be a direct result of these STEM programs. This effort isn’t something that is happening in a vacuum. If you’re interested in helping Chicago grow it’s own talent, considering donating or volunteering to one of these organizations.

About Christopher Whitaker

Christopher Whitaker is a project management consultant at the Smart Chicago Collaborative, utilizing his experience in government and community organizing to advance civic innovation in Chicago. Whitaker also serves as the Chicago Brigade Captain for Code for America, supporting civic hacking events and teaching a weekly Civic Hacking 101 class. He is a graduate of DePaul University (MPA) and Sam Houston State University (BA, Political Science). Previously, Whitaker served with the US Army in Iraq as a mechanized infantryman.

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