Technology Apprentice Program to Launch in South Florida

Designed to address the giant tech-talent gap, LaunchCode chooses candidates by testing their skills on the computer and helping them learn programming with educational partners.

by Marcia Heroux Pounds, Sun Sentinel / January 7, 2015

(TNS) -- LaunchCode, an organization that matches people with technology jobs, is expanding to South Florida to help address a shortage of tech workers.

The nonprofit group based in St. Louis works to give non-traditional job candidates opportunities in the field through apprenticeships and job placement. It will launch in South Florida with a $1.25 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Miami.

LaunchCode's South Florida director, Mariana Rego, is signing up companies that want to participate. Rego said she has meetings set with the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance to jump start the program in Broward County and also plans to recruit companies in Palm Beach County.

"The dynamics are the same as in St. Louis. There are opportunities but not enough people to fill technology jobs in South Florida as well," she said.

After recruiting companies, LaunchCode will make a call for apprentice candidates, Rego said.

LaunchCode chooses candidates by testing their skills on the computer and helping them learn programming with educational partners. The candidate then is sent to a company that is willing to pay and mentor the apprentice.

"We look for a cultural fit. We match not only skills but personality — that's why we're successful," she said.

Apprentices are paid about $15 an hour, usually working for a month to three months. If the company then decides to offer the candidate a job, it makes a $5,000 donation to the nonprofit.

Deborah Vazquez, president of Pro Tech Staffing in Boca Raton, said LaunchCode "sounds wonderful for the unemployed or underemployed. It would help our community here a lot." She said there's a divide between the employment market and workers "who may not have the latest and greatest skills. We could use a fresh approach."

In its first year, LaunchCode said 90 percent of its 130 apprentice placements led to full-time positions after only a few months.

Companies interested in joining LaunchCode can contact Rego at mariana@launchcode.org.

Ninety percent of those who participate in LaunchCode have no previous coding experience, the organization says. Only 18 percent have a computer science degree while 40 percent have a non-computer science degree and 42 percent have no college degree.

The apprentice programs are designed to address the giant tech-talent gap: 1 million jobs in programming alone will go unfilled by 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The organization was founded in 2013 by Jim McKelvey, co-founder of Square, a mobile credit-card and point-of-sale for businesses.

©2015 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)