New York City’s emergence as a global tech hub is undeniable: Today, our city is home to more than 9,000 tech startups, and more than 370,000 tech-related jobs. This immense growth, coupled with New York City’s unmatched diversity, puts us in prime position to leave behind the alienating “tech bro” culture that has prioritized the power of cis, white men at the expense of the rest of us, in favor of a more inclusive tech workforce that better represents the full richness of our community.
To create a more representative tech ecosystem, we must reimagine how we prepare young New Yorkers for these high-growth jobs of the future.
Preparing youth from underrepresented backgrounds for tech jobs helps us attain two important goals: meeting the unrelenting demand for talent, and ensuring diverse voices are empowered in emerging fields within tech. Business leaders should also know by now that a strong commitment to diversity is great for their bottom line: A 2020 McKinsey study found that the most diverse companies out-earn their less diverse peers by 36%.
Right now, New York City is falling short. Despite nearly 66% of students in the NYC school system identifying as Black and/or Hispanic, a mere 17% of the city’s tech workers identify similarly, and only 23% of local tech employees are women.
The issue is not a lack of interest in tech jobs. Instead, internships, a key component to securing an entry-level position, remain largely inaccessible to the most marginalized, and even those able to secure coveted internships are rarely given the tools they need to succeed. That’s because innovative businesses are reconsidering the traditional job model, and tech companies are looking for talent that has project-based work experience, in which employees are given broad challenges to solve rather than specific tasks. Unfortunately, most traditional internships do not offer this kind of exposure.
It is also clear that as employees demand flexibility, remote and hybrid work options are here to stay. Thus far, traditional internships have been slow to adapt. People from lower-income communities, who are often juggling part-time jobs and caregiving responsibilities, and who are most in need of flexible internships, are the most impacted.
This lack of agility perpetuates a homogenous tech workforce that will keep our city from reaching its full potential and privileges the gatekeepers who already have a leg up due to their race, gender or socioeconomic status.
Just as our economy and the tech industry continue to evolve, so too must our models to prepare workers. It is not enough to simply provide tech skills training. We must also connect aspiring tech workers with flexible project-based learning experiences that will help them launch careers in the field.
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Our own organizations, Tech:NYC and Girls Who Code, have partnered with the administration of Mayor Adams to launch Tech Year NYC and make this vision a reality. This new program will offer the city’s youth exposure to project-based learning experiences as well as the support needed to develop invaluable professional skills, such as storytelling, resumé building and interviewing.
We’ve designed Tech Year NYC to meet the evolving needs of both employers and youth who are “tech curious.” Unlike traditional youth work experiences — the majority of which are limited to the summer, see participants engaged in menial tasks, and, due to a lack of compensation, are often the privilege of the rich — Tech Year will run year-round, and pay participants for work, as well as activities including career exploration and professional development workshops.
The digital-first nature of the model has also made this program accessible to anyone interested in seeking a career in tech, regardless of background. Critically, it creates meaningful opportunities in a fast-growing sector that continues to embrace hybrid work.
The core of the model is a “consultancy” in which tech industry employers will present teams of youth with problems in practice. For example, past employer participants in a summer pilot run by Tech:NYC have included Etsy, which challenged students to explore a TikTok marketing strategy, and Union Square Ventures, which guided students to research climate tech startups for consideration as a possible investment.
Our year-round pilot program will cultivate future industry leaders by empowering up to 1,000 students with the opportunity to learn more about the ins and outs of the tech industry. And partnership with the mayor’s office will democratize and dramatically expand opportunities for diverse young adults to connect with tech stakeholders and pursue careers in the field.
Tech Year NYC is the beginning of thinking differently — about our workforce, our city and our access to the greatest career opportunities. Our city has proudly stood as a cultural, industrial and political leader for centuries. Now it’s time for us to take the lead on deciding what the future of tech should be.
Barrett is the CEO of Girls Who Code and Clark is the executive director of Tech:NYC.