Coding Bootcamps: A Roadblock To The Middle Class?

At this point, we have all heard about coding bootcamps and their ability to successfully develop and build job-ready talent.  This is proving to be an invaluable resource for US employers who are looking for strong candidates to fill the millions of job openings that have gone unfilled due to lack of degree, certificate or skills.

However, what you rarely hear people talk about is how inaccessible they are for most Americans – especially for those who are hovering below or just above the poverty line.  How can someone afford to spend between $10,000 to $20,000 on a program when they barely make $20,000 in a year? Why should they trust that there is a job at the end of the tunnel when there are so many programs that prey on the underserved population?  And, how are they supposed to bet their livelihood on a program that could potentially be full of false promises, only to leave them in a worse position than their exact current state – in debt?

Another shortcoming is that most bootcamps are designed to cater to the needs of white-collar, middle-class, and college-educated populations; 79% of bootcamp graduates have at least a Bachelor’s degree. The people who can afford to pay the required tuition often take time off in order to attend classes full-time, and upon completion of the course, then take the necessary time required to search for – and find – a job. The average time span from the first class to the first day on the job is six months; this puts your TCA (total cost of attendance) to roughly $30,000. With the average savings of Americans being around $1,000, it means that the possibility of participating in a coding bootcamp is out of reach for most populations.

Now, I understand that it’s hard work to cater to folks from non-traditional backgrounds and it’s also not everyone’s mission to help anyone to learn how to code. However, if you are looking to increase diversity in tech, here are ten things that need to change

1.)  Lower Cost: The average cost of a coding bootcamp ranges from $10,000 to $20,000. And that’s only the cost of the program. The TCA (total cost of attendance: tuition + loss of earnings* = $30,000) which makes it almost impossible for most folks to attend. If bootcamps are a “road to the middle class”, as President Obama has said, then they need to be made accessible for people outside of the middle class. Ways to address this are by pushing the cost of training onto hiring partners by charging for hires, access to students, and/or sponsoring of classes.

2.)  Identify High-Risk Students Prior to Starting the Class: Don’t just cash their checks, find out about each student before enrolling them.  Some questions we ask are: Why are they here? If your location isn’t accessible via public transportation, do they have or have access to a vehicle? Do they have young children, especially, under the age of one? Are they caring for a loved one who is sick or currently incapable of caring for themselves? Are they working more than 40 hours per week? These baseline questions can help you to either help the student make the right decision on whether it’s the right time or help your staff to focus on providing guidance for that student prior to Day 1. This isn’t an area where you can afford to be reactive, because if you wait until week three, you’ve already lost them.

3.)  Incorporate Part-Time Programs to Accommodate Working Adults: Not everyone has the luxury of taking a six-month sabbatical in order to change his or her career trajectory. And just because it only requires part-time attendance doesn’t mean it can’t be rigorous. We require students to make a 20-hour commitment per week. This is comprised of six hours of live classes, online or in person, and fourteen hours of homework.

4.)  Provide Online and Offline Access: Life happens and not everyone can attend every class. However, due to the significant amount of material covered in a single class, it’s important to provide either online access so that students can attend remotely or have a place where they can login to view the class they missed. Having both is preferable, but offering one or the other is paramount.

5.)  Equal Focus on Developing Soft Skills: Having a “rock star” instructor with top-notch curriculum is only half the battle. Just because a student can develop a kick-ass website, create a compelling visualization of the Human Genome, or analyze all of your sales and marketing data in order to better forecast results, doesn’t mean they’ll be able to articulate that experience in a formal interview. Interviewing is selling yourself and sales is an art form. The ability to project confidence, portraying a positive attitude, and the ability to highlight your strengths and accomplishments are the ingredients to getting a job offer.

6.)  Offer One-on-One mentoring to All Students: Most programs do not offer mentoring and the ones that do have an admission process. Yes, this is time consuming but having a mentor who is committed is a key ingredient to a student’s success. Learning how to code is similar to learning a foreign language – it’s not easy.  Having someone who can help you get over seemingly insurmountable hurdles is important. Before we built our mentoring platform, we were averaging 50 hours of one-on-one mentoring. That isn’t sustainable nor is it scalable. However, we were able to lower this by over 500% through the use of recorded and live video.

7.)  Leverage Technology to Measure Everything: Eat your dog food. If you’re going to teach people technology, utilize it for the benefit of the students.  At Colaberry, we use it to measure engagement, time spent on various activities, provide real-time performance, and create habit loops by requiring students to log-in daily.

8.)  Provide Equipment or 24/7 Access to All Students: Only 54% of households with incomes of $30,000 or less have broadband at home. Therefore, you must provide students with access class materials online where they can do homework/lab work, seek extra help or work together in groups.

9.)  Create a Knowledge base Through a Chat Group or Forum: This is where students can post questions, search questions with answers and answer each other’s questions as well. This prevents students from getting stuck and falling behind. If most students only have a few hours that they can dedicate to homework, then you should provide the resources they need to keep progressing.

10.) Focus on the Entire Process: The program isn’t complete until after six months on the job.  This is where most of the edtech companies or bootcamps fall short. If you’re trying to “innovate” on how students learn job specific skills, then you also need to “innovate” on how they’re being evaluated. If you urge them to go through the same process as everyone else by applying online to jobs where they’ll be evaluated by a resume in a general pool of candidates, they simply won’t get hired.  It’s important to display who they are and what skills and life experiences they bring to the table versus focusing on what they did before they got they enrolled in your bootcamp. We learned this the hard way. It was taking 15 job applications and 12 interviews to get a job the “old fashioned” way. So we innovated, by developing a “window” into our program by providing logins to our corporate partners. This enables them to see a full picture of our students by integrating video interviewing, coding tests, blogs or other social sites they choose to integrate and of course, the resume; the one remaining business process that existed before electricity.

Now you can’t refute the success of coding bootcamps, the numbers speak for themselves. According to Course Report, 66% of graduates are employed full-time as developers, 38% average salary increase, $18,000 average salary lift, and 38% of bootcampers are women vs 14% currently enrolled in undergrad Computer Science. However, if the American Dream is defined as class mobility, then we need to do more to ensure that these opportunities available to everyone, not just the middle class.

Paul Bilodeau is the Chief Strategy Officer for Colaberry, a platform that provides career pathways to folks from underserved communities with training, mentoring, and job placement. 

The GradsofLifeVoice Forbes team provides thought leadership, research and expert commentary on innovative talent pipelines and related issues such as the skills gap, income inequality, workforce diversity, and the business case for employment pathways. We seek to change employers’ perceptions of young adults with atypical resumes from social liabilities to economic assets. This post was originally featured here.

Education, Skills Gap, Technology, Workforce Development,
Related News
View All News
Hotel Trade Groups Seek Solutions To Labor-Shortage Problem
January 30th, 2018 | By Grads of Life

LOS ANGELES -- At the Americas Lodging Investment Summit (ALIS), U.S. and Canadian hotel trade groups announced programs to...Read More

More Than What's On Paper: Being Empowered By Change
September 6th, 2017 | By Grads of Life

What I remember most about my school years was playing video games. I don’t remember exactly what my first video game was...Read More

Career Readiness: Whose Responsibility Is It, Anyway?
August 30th, 2017 | By Grads of Life

A funny thing happens during the time students begin to wrap up their college and career-preparation programs and prepare to...Read More