Plugged in to Opportunity
Christina Royal says community colleges are leaders in workforce development — and that’s why a new partnership between Holyoke Community College (HCC), Springfield Technical Community College (STCC), and Upright Education makes so much sense.
“Our focus is on how we are able to bring education and training to the area and to be able to serve the employer needs in the region,” said Royal, president of HCC. “We are specifically about educating individuals who would stay here and work here and be able to lift up our communities, as opposed to institutions with various other missions.”
The two community colleges are in the process of starting a technical program for those with a sparked interest in the technological field. Upright Education is a partner for universities and community colleges to add programs that train workers and adult learners for direct entry into the workforce, specifically in technology fields.
The programs boast an accelerated, intensive focus on specific job training for the technological workforce, ranging from 12 weeks for full-time learners to 24 weeks for part-time learners.
Participants are able to choose from an ignition course, an introductory prep course that helps determine if the boot-camp programs are right for them. Students also get the opportunity to meet with an in-house career coach who helps them identify, early in their bootcamp training, the types of jobs and settings that most interest them.
“Our programs are not on the credit side of the house; they’re on the non-credit side, and they’re specifically for workforce training,” explained Benny Boas, founder and CEO of Upright Education. “So it’s people who want to get all the skills that they need in one place and then go out and get the job that they want.”
“Upright’s mission is to expand access and opportunity to adult learners; that aligns with our mission to support students as they transform their lives.”
Upright offers a programming boot camp, training students in jobs like coding and software development. Through the partnership with HCC and STCC, there is an entirely different course that focuses on UX/UI Design.
“Essentially, students are learning how users or people interact with software and then using design skills to improve that software through research and applied behavioral understanding,” Boas explained. “So, essentially, a UX designer is what happens before anyone even writes the code or when you need to make an iteration in a project.
“Upon graduation, each program comes with digital certifications, so we work with Credly to offer digital badging for each of our programs,” he added. “So when you graduate, even from our ignition programs, you leave with verified skills showing that you know a specific technology or subject area.”
Boas told BusinessWest that he founded and ran Burlington Code Academy — a Vermont company dedicated to training individuals with the computer-science and programming skills necessary in the same format as Upright for graduation — before realizing why Upright needed to be started: there was a big hole in the distribution of this type of education model.
“The reason why we saw a limited adoption of this model in higher education is because it just doesn’t fit into the higher-ed curriculum offerings; it’s on a cohort schedule,” he said. “It’s not on a calendar, and instructors aren’t professors; they’re practitioners, people that are typically professionals in a specific field that they’ve been working in for a period of time, and they’re pretty pricey to spin up.”
Connecting to Careers
Boot-camp programs have been available throughout New York City, Los Angeles, and other big cities for almost a decade now. Smaller cities aren’t offering them through their local market because they’re expensive to run, and in order for universities and colleges to run these programs, there needs to be a large, upfront investment.
Enter Upright, which, by making these programs readily available, especially to schools like HCC and STCC that represent an underserved population, is creating opportunities for growth: for individuals, communities, and the local economy.
“We saw that there’s a really big opportunity for these colleges to address a very post-industrial economy and bring a very much-needed element to the curriculum that can be very impactful, specifically for Western Mass.; we can see that there is so much potential for the area,” Boas said, adding that there needs to be a workforce revitalization that focuses not as much on bringing traditional manufacturing and industrial jobs into the region, but targets the new economy, which focuses on “skilled labor in the tech sector.”
Through his work with the president of Vermont College of Fine Arts, Boas was introduced to both HCC and STCC. They established connections which evolved into a contractual partnership.
Gladys Franco, assistant vice president for Workforce Development at STCC, said the missions of Upright and the college go hand in hand.
“Upright’s mission is to expand access and opportunity to adult learners; that aligns with our mission to support students as they transform their lives,” she explained. “This partnership provides an option to our community for those who are looking for a fast track or accelerated pathway to get into a career with technology, the target population being adult learners.”
“Just as Westfield is now serving a number of hilltowns, we can now do the same. These towns chose us because of our team and our ability to serve them.”
She noted that, while the programs are the same, each school has its own contract with Upright. However, the two community colleges work together on a different number of initiatives to support the community.
Royal agreed, noting that, even though HCC and STCC have programs that are unique to those colleges, there is an overlap in some areas that both schools offer. “We’re trying to work together so we can work on this partnership in so many of the other ways that HCC and STCC can partner together. We can really offer the options that we need, and, in this case, for IT-accelerated change and for individuals in the Valley.”
Upright Education focuses specifically on community colleges and smaller universities because it serves demographics that could generally use the workforce advantages of having a career in tech.
Students are typically adult learners, usually over age 24. Coming from all walks of life, this underrepresented group is looking for a career change, specifically one that will impact them tremendously.
“There are a lot of single mothers, single fathers, folks from all non-traditional backgrounds that want to go from a job to a career, people who want to work from home and get the benefits of working in tech jobs,” Boas said. “We’re realizing there’s a great equalizer. They are learning tech skills and not needing the higher-education prerequisites or really even entry-level skills to get into a tech job. Students just need to be good at actually coding or doing the job itself to get into the program.”
The technical workforce is growing rapidly, and there isn’t a company that doesn’t use IT in some form, he added, whether it is to support server emails for someone carrying a smartphone in their hands, or software applications to support a business or organization. Royal agreed, calling IT professionals “absolute staples within organizational strategies.”
Servers of the Workforce
Now that a program like Upright is locally available, people are able to get access to the same sophisticated job training that leads to high-paid, high-demand careers that someone would get in urban centers. The hope is that these new technical careers will create vast opportunities for area students.
“There’s a need to really help strengthen and produce more IT professionals to be able to support more businesses in our community,” Royal said. “Upright’s recent cohort has a 92% job-placement rate, and on average offers about a 30% increase in salary for students who are coming from other careers. That is something that our students are also focused on: being able to receive training and education to be able to better support themselves and their families. So we welcome anything that allows us to have offerings that can support a wide variety of career paths.”
Kailey Houle can be reached at [email protected]