The Los Angeles Tech Talent Pipeline is an initiative that places about 200 young people from underrepresented backgrounds in tech internships every summer with companies like Snap Inc., Boingo Wireless, Cornerstone on Demand, Tastemade and mitu Network— as well as in the LA City government. 95% of the students in the Pipeline are low income, and many come from community colleges in LA where one in five students are homeless and two in three students are food insecure.
When considering the lack of diversity in the tech world, many people think it’s a supply-side issue. “They say ‘if only our community colleges were teaching the requisite skills.’ If only, if only, if only. We call BS on if only,” explains Sean Arian, co-founder of the LA Tech Talent Pipeline. There are roadblocks in the tech community that keep students that are ready, or maybe 80% of the way there, from getting 100% of the way there and getting a job.”
Much of the tech sector in LA looks the same, with a steady stream of resumes arriving from elite college that have robust career services centers and well-connected alumni networks.
So when the organizers of the LA Tech Talent Pipeline mapped out the tech jobs scene in their city, weren’t surprised by what they found. The same sectors of the economy that were rapidly growing, hiring user experience designers, software engineers, and data analysts, were also becoming increasingly closed off to broad swaths of the city’s population, particularly those who attended community colleges or came from certain neighborhoods.
The Pipeline team has pinpointed the four primary roadblocks that prevent a more diverse next generation from entering the tech world: the widespread perception that community colleges provide a lesser education, or that the students who attend them weren’t accepted to four year institutions; a rise in over-credentialing, where companies require unnecessary degrees or only look at top colleges; a drive to fill positions through internal referrals; and the desire to recruit from traditional colleges through career fairs and job centers.
The Pipeline seeks to remove those roadblocks, and bring young people into the tech sector who previously might not have had access. So in 2016, they began partnering with community colleges and nonprofits that serve underrepresented populations, including former-foster, housing-insecure, and formerly-incarcerated youth, in order to place these students in tech-focused internships throughout the city. “We have one basic principle: talent is equally distributed. Opportunity is not,” says Arian.
Once they’ve recruited students, the Pipeline looks for companies, nonprofits, and government agencies in which to place them. Arian’s co-founder and Senior Advisor, Sergio Rosas, notes that a fundamental part of establishing a pipeline like this is creating partnerships. Says Rosas, “Public-private partnerships are foundational to closing equity gaps. From a practitioner point of view, it’s critical to develop a common vision for the region, then involve as many stakeholders from the community as possible.”
Many students in the Pipeline get to give back to that community through their work, as 20% of the employers have a civic focus. Some of these are civic tech nonprofits and private companies, such as DIY Girls, which teaches young women about technology, Michelson 20MM, which works on innovation in higher education, and Equallet, which helps consumers and investors find women-owned businesses to support. Others spring from the Pipeline’s partnership with the LA Mayor’s office, including the LA Metro Transportation Authority, and the City of LA’s Data Team and Information Technology Agency.
Kaitlin Jet was one of the interns placed with LA’s Information Technology Agency last summer, where she worked as a UX designer. Jet spent the summer working on a website for the LA Department of Aging, conducting research, working on mockups, and understanding how to make services for the elderly easily accessible to that population. Because of her time in the Pipeline, she says that she is now considering returning to local government work some day. Jet notes, “I thought there would be a lot of bureaucracy that would make it hard to get things done, but there are so many ways that working in local government can make things a lot better for people here.”
Building enthusiasm for work in local government is precisely what Maryam Abbassi, who serves as the internship coordinator for the Information Technology Agency, intends a summer internship do. She makes sure that the interns get the full experience, from tours of the city facilities and operations to workshops on how to apply for positions in city government, because LA will need a lot more young people in city government soon. Says Abbassi, “The City of LA, like a lot of other cities, is facing the ‘Silver Tsunami,’ where a lot of people who have been working in local government for years are going to be retiring soon. We need young talent. How better to get that than partnering locally?”
The City of LA and other Pipeline employers are being introduced to that young talent through summer internships—but they aren’t breaking off the relationships when September rolls around. 40% of students in the Pipeline so far have been able to convert their internships into jobs and stay long term, which is exactly what organizers hope will happen. Lindsey Heisser, the Pipeline’s Director, says that their “goal is getting underrepresented students not just into internships, but into jobs, so when organizations use internal referrals, those students are pulling in peers from their networks.”
Other cities might soon get the same opportunities as LA. The Pipeline has been fielding calls from several local governments hoping to establish similar partnerships in their areas. In the meantime, the Pipeline is expanding their efforts to include company tours, hackathons, job shadowing days, career fairs, and apprenticeships in order to serve more than 6,000 students each year. “We’re ready for whatever is next,” says Arian. “And we’re excited to serve as many of LA’s young people as we can.”