Chris Hutchinson, Senior Vice President of Engagement at Eleven Fifty Academy, works to identify and nurture partnership opportunities—both Indiana-based and from coast to coast. He’s passionate about connecting community leaders, employers, educational institutions, students, and government entities to improve local, regional, and national communities. Here, he shares some of his thoughts on the Advancing Tech in 46218 initiative.
Since our founding in 2014, Eleven Fifty Academy has worked to create accessible, high-quality programs to empower people from all backgrounds to skill up and qualify for the plentiful, well-paying jobs in tech. As our programs have evolved and scaled, we’ve taken great pride in really getting to know the different communities we serve.
That being said, no two communities are the same. So, while some may use a general playbook for engaging with new, diverse communities, we approach them differently, depending on their unique needs. In certain communities, you can’t help but notice the difference between the population’s makeup and the makeup of the tech workforce. It’s pretty troubling.
There’s no use dancing around it: the tech industry is overwhelmingly male and white. This is nothing new, and not a particularly well-kept secret, yet there’s just not much being done about it. Nothing effective, at least.
Until now. You see, there’s nothing that excites us more than identifying a problem without an easy or obvious solution…and that’s exactly what the situation around diversity in tech is. Sitting by, doing nothing, wasn’t really an option. But before we could do anything, we had some questions to answer. For starters:
- Why are some Indianapolis neighborhoods so consistently over-promised and under-served?
- What immediate, concrete steps can we take to make some in-roads?
- How can we engage the community in our initiative, to help with support and follow-through?
Our discussions—internally, and with community members and local partners—led to the creation of the Advancing Tech in 46218 initiative. We had already built a solid foundation of course and funding options for students, making our programs as accessible as possible, but access wasn’t enough. We needed to take our programs to the learners, on the community level. First up: the 46218 zip code.
Funded by a Lilly Endowment Inc. grant, the Advancing Tech in 46218 initiative finds us working with a collection of community partners to empower residents of the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood with accessible pathways toward building the skills that will help them land jobs in the tech industry.
Partnering with the area’s own Martin University, we’re offering part-time Web Development and IT Professional courses. While our courses are typically offered online, we wanted to support in-person courses for better engagement and support. Again, this initiative is all about tearing down barriers and opening doors. That’s easier to do in-person than online, and more likely to gain traction.
Call it “meeting learners where they are.” To us, it’s imperative.
You see, we’ve already built an incredible foundation—accessible and flexible options for learners, funding options, including generous financial aid programs, and a robust Career Services team that boasts a really impressive 80% placement rate. Within 50 days after graduating, we see 80% of our students attain jobs, typically within 90 days of graduation, with an average starting salary of $55,000, and many starting between $60k-$80k.
This initiative is about adaptation, taking accessibility further by stepping foot in the actual communities we want to connect with.
We’re trying to better, more-intentionally connect with learners in particularly under-served communities—those with significant proportions of women or minorities, for example. We’re getting the word out about all the jobs (and money to be made) in tech, and how community members can get in on the action. How we encourage them to get in on the action. Even if they don’t see a whole lot of role models in the industry who look like them, we want to help find (and empower) some future role models.
This absolutely isn’t—and shouldn’t be—something we could do alone. We couldn’t do this without the support of an Enhancing Opportunity in Indianapolis grant from the Lilly Endowment. We have a number of community partners, like INNOPOWER Indy Inc., that are helping us build a strong support network.
At the end of the day, we want to open doors—all of them. We want to connect learners to the resources and support systems they need to find (and thrive in) tech industry jobs. That’s why Advancing Tech in 46218 is such a passion project of ours. So, while fighting against systemic racism and generational poverty might seem like a David vs. Goliath scenario, we’re fired up by the challenge. And we won’t be backing down.
Visit ADVANCING TECH IN 46218 to learn more of the program’s details and find out when the next information session is being held.