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Cleveland talent accelerator hopes to build new diverse IT workforce

GCP talent accelerator.JPG
Conor Morris
Ideastream Public Media
Safwaan Abdul-Karim, at table left, signs on with digital consulting business Masstechism during the launch of a new IT sector talent accelerator initiative with Greater Cleveland Partnership.

The Greater Cleveland Partnership and a host of other businesses and organizations held a “signing day” ceremony for a small batch of talented young people Tuesday, but it wasn't athletes signing on the dotted line. It was apprentices in the burgeoning field of IT (information technology).

It’s all part of a new “talent accelerator” in Cleveland that’s focused on providing job training to people who are underrepresented in the IT sector, along with a road to an apprenticeship and support while they're that journey.

For Yasmin Abdul-Khaliq, who announced she was signing on with KeyBank, her apprenticeship represents the beginning of a bright future despite struggling to find her passion earlier while going to school for nursing.

“If you would've told me five years ago, when I was sitting in my room crying about just going through life in nursing school, I wouldn't have thought I'd be here today," she said.

The initiative – a partnership with Interapt, a workforce development company based in Louisville, Ky. – has a long title, the Workforce Connect IT Sector Partnership Talent Accelerator.

Craig Platt, managing director of the IT Sector Partnership, describes it as a way to help businesses looking for new talent and a way to help the people they will hire. Platt said it works like this: Greater Cleveland Partnership and Interapt find candidates and help them get the training and certifications they need, with the first cohort of 25 people going through Urban City Codes in Cleveland last year. Those certifications and that training is paid for through Greater Cleveland Partnership, United Way of Cleveland and Ohio Means Jobs Cuyahoga County.

Then, Interapt works with local and national businesses to create apprenticeship positions for the program participants. Once they land the apprenticeships, the participants also receive help with transportation and childcare for at least a year, issues that were identified by Greater Cleveland Partnership as two of the biggest barriers to getting to work, Platt said.

“So now you have an employee that shows up at your door not worried about how they would get home or picking up their kids,” Platt said.

Platt said all of the apprenticeship jobs start at $47,500 and include benefits and paid time off.

Safwaan Abdul-Karim, another apprentice who signed on Tuesday, this time with digital consultant business Masstechism, said he’s been surrounded by supportive people since starting the talent accelerator program.

“When I first started this cohort, there were a lot of obstacles and a lot of challenges that I had faced… it’s very, very rare that you meet people who care about you as a man, and that you meet people who care about your success and your future,” he said.

Baiju Shah, president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Partnership, said there’s a serious need for the program.

“We found that tech is growing not only globally, but it's growing right here in Greater Cleveland,” Shah said. “We have 45,000 people employed in the tech sector across Greater Cleveland. But even more surprising, we had 13,000 open positions across tech.”

Shah added he hopes the program could eventually bring hundreds of Cleveland-area residents into the IT sector as the program expands over time.

Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.