It’s no secret that the many of tomorrow’s Upstate jobs will require technology skills – no matter the sector.
“There are very few businesses or organizations that can produce, deliver or promote themselves or their products without technology – from manufacturing to services, aerospace to healthcare, and every industry in between,” says Lelia King, executive director of Build Carolina in Greenville County.
At last count, there were approximately 1,000 jobs available for web developers across the state. And South Carolina schools only graduate a few hundred students in computer science and related fields each year. As a result, many web development jobs – with a mean wage of more than $73,000 – sit vacant for lack of qualified workers.
To fill this gap, the South Carolina Department of Commerce launched SC Codes, a free platform for code education, in 2018.
A Beginning from an End
When Greenville-based software education firm The Iron Yard closed in late 2017, its founders sought to fill the void its exit would create.
“Code education was a passion for them, though they were starting new ventures,” says King. “They wanted to continue to support our state’s growing tech sector.”
That passion project has become Build Carolina, and King leads its charge.
The first thing the Build Carolina team did was start Carolina Code School using a similar approach to what The Iron Yard built. “There was no need to start from scratch,” King says. “We had industry-leading, high-quality curriculum and created a 12-week immersive code boot camp to teach adults how to code and how to start new careers in technology,” she explains.
The new non-profit graduated its first cohort of Carolina Code School students in August 2018.
An Investment in Innovation
Entrepreneurs in the technology sector weren’t the only ones seeking to provide South Carolinians greater access to careers in technology.
In 2016, the South Carolina Department of Commerce’s Office of Innovation began a pilot program — with BMW as an industry partner — to offer a free code camp experience through Greenville County libraries.
The pilot was a success, and the department decided to take the program statewide in 2018.
“This is a statewide program with Upstate roots,” King explains. “The pilot program was here, and our offices at Build Carolina are headquartered here, but we now have the ability to share this program and experience across our state.”
The Department of Commerce’s investment in SC Codes, King says, “isn’t money put toward one specific industry, but into innovation and technology very broadly. They see tremendous value in making sure our workforce is prepared; this funding is focused on outcomes that will impact business. That speaks volumes.”
“South Carolina’s ability to compete in the global economy will rely on the availability of an educated, job-ready workforce,” says South Carolina Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt. “SC Codes will help us develop such talent, increasing digital literacy skills and preparing our state’s workforce for the jobs of tomorrow.”
Training Tailored to SC Employers
SC Codes is now a platform that includes online self-paced curriculum as well as the ability to track how students are doing in the course and to communicate with them directly.
“We have a lot of meaningful data, including a map showing where students are logging in across South Carolina. That data will really begin to help us make better decisions about additional gaps that exist across the state, from broadband access to the need for additional mentors.”
SC Codes tailors its content and training specifically to the needs of South Carolina employers. “The new platform launched in late September 2018, and we immediately started getting feedback across industries about the need and desire for more access to code education,” King remembers.
In its new statewide iteration, SC Codes aims to help “every level of our workforce obtain more access to technology education and a broader understanding of what programming is and the opportunities available for people with those skills. Whether someone is in school but doesn’t have a coding class, or wants to learn on their own – perhaps working adults wondering if this is an area they might enjoy or marketing executives wanting to become more aware of what their team’s web developers do – SC Codes can have value to them.”
The SC Codes platform is one over which “we have full control,” King says. “We can add curriculum and training or targeted skills to our platform at the speed at which employers need them.” The team is working with South Carolina employers to gather feedback about additional modules that will help fill the state’s skills gap.
More than Training
Several free, self-paced coding courses live on SC Codes’ site, but King says the real work of her program is far more than training. “We are creating partnerships with employers and organizations across the state, from library systems to nonprofit organizations, to support people who want to have an in-person SC Codes experience.”
The school has 16 site partners and is adding to that list. They create mentor meet-ups and pair people currently working in the technology industry with students interested in pursuing jobs in that field. In the Upstate, Spartanburg Regional Library System is actively scheduling SC Codes mentor meet-ups in its locations; Goodwill is doing the same at its Job Connections sites. Additional Upstate partnerships are in the works.
On the ground across the state, volunteer mentors and students are “creating their own version of SC Codes, particular to their distinctive needs. Whether that’s a monthly meet-up as a touchpoint to ask questions or a cohort moving through the curriculum together, what we offer is very community-specific.”
“SC Codes is about business,” King says, “so it’s ultimately about helping the workforce at every level.”
Just as each SC Codes student has individual needs, each South Carolinian hoping to enter the technology field or add to their existing skills will have a unique path. “There is no one pathway to a job in coding. We are focused on workforce development, helping to equip people for wherever this training takes them,” King explains.
SC Codes’ nearly 4,000 registered students (and counting) have run the gamut in terms of age, education level, career aspirations and work backgrounds.
“The industry is still so new and quickly moving; a career path will vary employer by employer and worker by worker. There are more jobs than applicants in this field, so many employers in South Carolina are looking at non-traditional graduates. It’s more important to many companies that their applicants have the skills, whatever their background.”
There is a variety of content online for those hoping to become self-taught programmers, but the benefit of SC Codes’ specific platform is that “our team can communicate directly with you, connect you with a person working in your field regardless of where you live, and help you create an individualized pathway into a job in this field. SC Codes is a first step to filling a gap that exists in both education and qualified applicants for high-paying jobs in our state.”
Room to Grow
As technology evolves, SC Codes plans to follow suit, with hopes to develop ongoing apprenticeship and internship connection programs. Currently, the program has a jobs board to connect people with employment opportunities, and King hopes more Upstate companies will become partners to develop industry-specific curricula and apprenticeship opportunities.
To Upstate organizations and companies interested in what SC Codes is doing, King says, “We are always looking to add site partners, funding sources and employer relationships. The more public-private partnerships we have, the more quickly Upstate companies will see the value in targeting specific groups of people who are learning these skills.”
For students, she sees the organization’s value as two-fold: “SC Codes can help you understand if you have aptitude and connect you directly with mentors and employers to determine next best steps. For interested students and even for teachers whose schools do not have access to this kind of teaching in-person, SC Codes bridges a significant gap.”
King sees the future for the program and its students as a bright one.
“This program is in its infancy, but SC Codes’ potential for growth is enormous, and there is so much interest. SC Codes acts as an umbrella to elevate all code education initiatives in our state, and we anticipate a number of ways to keep making that happen.”
Photographs by Angela Zion and provided by Build Carolina.