How Coding Bootcamps Can Help Retrain Employees

By Sarah Gallo October 8, 2019
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Editor's Note: SHRM has partnered with TrainingIndustry.com to bring you relevant articles on key HR topics and strategies.

The National Center for Women in Technology (NCWIT) predicts that while there will be 3.5 million "computing-related" jobs in the U.S. by 2026, 83% of them could go unfilled due to a lack of college graduates with related degrees. To meet this demand, organizations must reskill their workforces and look to candidates who have learned in-demand technical skills through alternate forms of education.

In recent years, coding bootcamps have succeeded in training a diverse group of workers for careers as web, full-stack and software developers, among other roles, as well as reskilling people already in those professions. However, several major coding bootcamps have also closed in recent years, including Dev Bootcamp and The Iron Yard in 2017.

What are surviving bootcamps doing to succeed in an industry marked by constant change? Let's take a deep dive into the mentoring and coaching strategies, learning methods, diversity efforts and other best practices coding bootcamps are using to ensure learner and organizational success.

Increased Learner Support

From learning multiple coding languages (e.g., JavaScript, R and Python) to understanding complex technical concepts, learning to code can seem daunting to even the most motivated learners. To overcome this apprehension and improve learning, coding bootcamps are offering mentoring and coaching support. For example, Code Fellows, a Seattle-based coding academy, implements a one-to-six student-to-teacher ratio to ensure learners have the personalized instruction they need during class and lab time, says Mitchell Robertson, vice president of Code Fellows. For additional support, the company has a tutoring program, where learners can receive help from past graduates and industry experts, and career coaching that covers topics such as business etiquette, creating a professional network and managing behavioral interview questions.

At Geekwise Academy, mentoring is ingrained in the learning process. "Our Geekwise instructors are not just the instructors; they are actual mentors," says Terry Solis, director of Geekwise Academy. "They coach. They're project leads. They have work experience in the industry, so they draw from their industry experience working in tech teams and developing and delivering software projects."

As the demand for technical skills continues to rise, employers must also support the upskilling of their existing workforce to keep up with industry advancements. Nickolay Schwarz, chief technology officer at BenchPrep, encourages organizations to "do good by your team members, provide ample opportunities to learn and verify skills, because failing to [do] these things will end up being more costly in the long run."

Employers must support the upskilling of their existing workforce to keep up with industry advancements.

Trilogy Education Services supports upskilling through its technical training courses offered at 49 universities across the globe. For example, Trilogy partnered with Georgia Institute of Technology to help upskill existing information technology (IT) and technical workers at GE Digital in areas like web development, data analytics and cybersecurity. "More and more, it's important that employees have literacy, have the ability to interact with technology and technology teams as more of the world turns to software and AI and those types of tools," says Dan Sommer, CEO of Trilogy.

Learning Methods for Success

To prepare learners for roles in the tech industry, coding bootcamps should create an environment that's representative of the work environment they may encounter when entering the industry, Solis says. Project-based, real-time learning is one effective tool to replicate the workplace. Further, she adds, Geekwise works to "instill confidence and soft skills in additional to … current programming languages and tools."

Bootcamps should create an environment that's representative of the work environment learners may encounter in the industry.

Similarly, Code Fellows simulates a professional environment to prepare learners for their tech careers by ensuring its courses remain interactive, collaborative and hands-on. Its program also uses "stack-module learning," which Robertson describes as "teaching in a way that builds upon concepts that go deeper each day to improve retention and ignite graduates' ability to continue learning well beyond their time with us."

With constant advancements appearing across the tech field, it's also important for coding bootcamps to adapt their curriculum based on the skills employers are looking for. At Trilogy, Sommer says, "We built a curriculum that was driven by industry, and we've been able to modify the curriculum itself over 700,000 times based on input that we get from learners, from faculty members at universities and from industries. It's a constantly dynamic and changing curriculum."

Pathstream, an education technology company that partners with software developers to create online courses, also works with higher education institutions to help solve technical skills gaps. Eleanor Cooper, CEO and co-founder of Pathstream, says, "Community colleges have a long history of working with local employers and responding to specific workforce needs, so they were an obvious first partner for us. We also chose to work with several online universities, because they tend to design programs that are flexible and responsive to the economic realities of non-traditional students." Cooper says these educational partnerships, along with in-house training programs, will continue to thrive as companies look to upskill their workforces through technical skills training programs.

Committing to Diversity

The need for greater diversity in the tech sector has become an ongoing conversation. NCWIT reports that, while women earn 57% of all undergraduate degrees, they earn only 18% of undergraduate computer and information sciences degrees. Further, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reports that 83.3% of tech executives in the U.S. are white, and 80% are men. By making technical training more accessible, coding bootcamps can help diversify the industry.

For Code Fellows, advancing diversity has always been an integral part of the business. "When we launched in 2013, we set out with that mission in mind: that we wanted to find ways to make education more accessible to those who have traditionally not been able to obtain it," Robertson says. To help fulfill this mission, Code Fellows launched its diversity scholarship fund, which funds up to 70% of the cost of education to learners who fall under a "non-traditional background" (e.g., minorities in the industry). Today, the scholarship has awarded nearly $3 million, Robertson says.

Another way coding bootcamps are improving diversity is by growing professional networks and creating valuable connections for learners. "Through new networks, you're able to give access to groups that traditionally maybe were not represented in fields like technology," Sommer says. "By building a network of over 49 universities that partner with Trilogy, we've broadened access into communities that perhaps didn't have access to this level of tech training before."

Coding bootcamps are improving diversity by growing professional networks and creating valuable connections for learners.

Trilogy also works with employers that are working to bring diversity and inclusion to their workforce, and connecting these employers with learners globally helps promote diversity as well, Sommer says. For other coding bootcamps looking to improve diversity in tech, Solis suggests lowering program costs and eliminating aptitude tests and entrance exams, which she says are often biased.

Today's coding bootcamps are faced with numerous challenges, including keeping curriculum relevant in a constantly advancing field, identifying effective training methods and diversifying the industry. By tackling these challenges through mentoring and coaching, using hands-on learning, partnering with educational institutions, and ensuring accessibility and inclusion, coding bootcamps can position themselves for success — and help more learners access the technical training they need to succeed in the future of work.

Sarah Gallo is associate editor at TrainingIndustry.com.

This article is adapted from TrainingIndustry.com with permission © 2019. All rights reserved.

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