When the federal government first passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) back in March of 2020, it allotted $2.2 trillion in economic stimulus. In addition to one-time payments and increased unemployment assistance, the CARES Act distributed financial assistance to businesses and to educational organizations. But how did the CARES Act impact minority populations, and what lessons can we learn from the last year and a half as we move forward?
We recently sat down with our own Dewand Neely, Chief Operations Officer at Eleven Fifty Academy, and Emil Ekiyor, Founder and CEO at INNOPOWER Indy, to talk about the CARES Act, lessons learned, and how to keep the momentum going.
There’s been a lot of studies showing that underserved populations and minority populations have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. How did the CARES Act impact these populations?
Emil: The CARES Act from the federal government was a greatly-needed deed. From a business perspective, however, part of what we saw when the CARES dollars came out is that a lot of minority-owned entities didn’t get a chance to receive the financial benefits. For many different reasons, minority entrepreneurs and business owners were not prepared to meet the requirements of receiving some of those dollars.
So I think that created an aha moment for people to say…as we continue to navigate and recover from the pandemic, how do we make sure things like this never happen again? As we look at that and at what happened, I think it exposed some of the barriers that minority groups face on a daily basis.
Dewand: From an Eleven Fifty Academy standpoint, there’s a couple interesting things that happened.
First, the CARES funding provided financial assistance for Indiana residents to enroll in programs that provide training for high demand or high wage careers like tech. So the CARES funding was a direct response to helping folks skill-up to change occupations. For a lot of workers who were severely displaced by the pandemic this was a potential lifeline to a new job.
Second, in terms of minority populations, I think the CARES Act helped us to provide more exposure to tech careers in communities where it’s not well-known. Even though we had these financial assistance funds for students, we had to develop a marketing strategy to let these groups know that there’s a path for them to change their trajectory during the pandemic. We had to show them that path.
Emil: And enrollment for minority populations did go up at Eleven Fifty Academy during the pandemic, which is a testament to the hard work they did to engage the community to let people know about the opportunities they provide.
Were these enrollment successes part of the impetus behind Advancing Tech in 46218?
Emil: Having so many minority students sign up during the pandemic helped to shed light on some of the barriers people face. It drove a need to create a model to engage and support minority populations and the unique barriers they face breaking into tech. A model that understands the realities of life and family and treats each student’s unique needs is such a breath of fresh air that doesn’t happen in a lot of areas.
Dewand: Thanks for those kind words, Emil. Besides the purely financial possibilities, it opened our eyes to the fact that if EFA truly wants to make an impact, we can’t do it ourselves. We can’t take an old model and apply it to a new situation. We need buy-in. We need partners. We need to provide wrap-around support and prepare someone for a tech career by giving them a good foundation for success throughout their journey. And that started some of the early conversations around what’s now Advancing Tech in 46218.
Can you speak about the kinds of unique barriers you’re seeing or addressing?
Dewand: I think one barrier we see is that our programs are tough, and it can be easy to bow out when the going gets tough. Although it wasn’t a huge issue, we really try to keep an eye on our students to make sure we can support them if they hit a barrier so they don’t just quit.
Emil: I think sometimes we take for granted that people are just aware of opportunities. Traditionally, certain demographics in our country haven’t been invited to participate in industries that lead to high wages. So it’s not just about creating the opportunities, but making sure minority populations feel like they belong. Part of the reason I give Scott Jones and Eleven Fifty Academy so much credit is that they’re an organization that has a genuine desire to support this demographic and create opportunities for upward mobility. And that means building the opportunities, but also creating a pathway to a welcoming employer.
Dewand: That’s a good point, and it reminds me of skepticism as a barrier. We’re in a world where everything’s a scam. You have people phishing you through email, through text, on the phone…So we can’t just say, “hey, take our three month course and you’ll make $55,000 a year.” We’ve really focused on trying to be genuine. To share the success stories of our graduates. To build relationships and help illustrate the possibilities.
So what’s next? How can we build on all of this momentum?
Emil: For me, it all comes back to community. We have to have organizations that are willing to jump into the arena, design programs with communities—not just for communities—and have an empathetic understanding of individual and systemic barriers. And EFA is doing that.
I mean it’s amazing to me. I sit back sometimes and pinch myself because I see the growth opportunities nationally, but I also understand that today we’re creating it play by play. Such a playbook never existed on how to go into Black communities and work with them in a concerted way. To show different educational paths. To create connections with employers. To get the communities themselves to champion this work and be the voice of it.
Dewand: I’ll just add that my definition of growth is growth with partnerships. We’re seeing unprecedented working relationships right now. It wasn’t that long ago where EFA was seen as a competitor to traditional higher education. Now you see we’re all working together because we know there’s more than one path for people and they need multiple options. That’s been a big win over the past year.
As we move forward, I’m hoping people will realize that EFA and so many other groups are serious about making a real impact. And we’re willing to work with whoever we need to—whoever wants to be a partner—to make it happen. We hope more folks will reach out and new, innovative partnerships will be formed that we haven’t even thought of. Because the real benefit from these partnerships is that we’ll be able to help more people transform their lives.
If you’d like to learn more about Eleven Fifty Academy or are interested in becoming a partner, reach out to us today.