Two persons seeing automobile machinery.

Closing the digital divide, opening new opportunities

As Detroit’s tech sector takes off, NPower Michigan brings IT training to young people in the city’s underserved communities.

In recent years the Detroit area, home to America’s automobile industry, has seen its economy shift away from traditional manufacturing to become more technology-based. The region’s fast-growing tech sector has created a groundswell of employment opportunity, particularly at the entry level. But the required technical skills and training put these openings, and the long-term career paths that they can lead to, out of reach for many young adults in the area. This gap is even more apparent in under-resourced communities, where the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent economic downturn deepened existing financial, educational and health inequities, particularly among African Americans.

For young people, the digital divide can be a daunting barrier to entry for careers in IT. That’s why NPower Michigan offers Tech Fundamentals, an education and job placement program for young people ages 18-25 and military veterans that provides the skills training and career pathways needed to enter and succeed in this growing field. Through the free, six-month program, trainees can earn industry-recognized certifications and professional-level technical skills in areas like coding and engineering. Plus, they gain on-the-job experience through internships and apprenticeships, as well as long-term career guidance and support. “Without the help of NPower,” one Tech Fundamentals alum says, “I would’ve been stuck in dead-end jobs. I don’t think I would ever have gotten the chance to break into the IT field.”

Members of the first Detroit Tech Fundamentals class started their journey in January 2020, and the results are already impressive. Of the 75 young adults who entered the program, 85% completed the course and found paying positions. Those new jobs pay an average of 519% more than the graduates’ previous jobs. It’s also a benefit to companies that need skilled workers. One corporate recruiter, who brought on a program alumna as an intern, reports being “blown away” by her interview. Of the candidate, the recruiter says, “the hiring manager described her as a unicorn. She was able to answer questions that even more senior analysts may not know the answer to.”

A grant from Bank of America, part of the bank’s $1.25 billion, five-year commitment to advance racial equality and economic opportunity will help NPower Michigan continue to offer Tech Fundamentals and support the expansion of the program.