Crossposted from the Herald-Times, this is The Mill’s regular column. Melissa Ward is the Head of Initiatives and Partnerships.
Bloomington has a unique identity in Indiana. For some people, Bloomington means basketball or bike races. For others, Bloomington evokes the arts and a delicious dining scene. For still others, Bloomington means summers on the lake, hiking, and trails. Lately, we’re gaining a new reputation as an emerging hub for tech and startups. This is great news, as jobs in the tech sector pay the higher wages we need. The time is right to grow our tech economy. There’s just one obstacle: talent.
Earlier this year, Bloomington won the prestigious Rising Tech City Award, part of TechPoint’s Mira Awards. This award recognizes the projects and the people of an Indiana city who have championed the tech sector and built a tech-friendly business environment. As the center of gravity for local tech entrepreneurship, The Mill was cited as key player in Bloomington’s award. We grow the startup ecosystem through accelerator programs, mentoring, micro-investment, and a strong coworking community.
And our efforts are paying off. Elevate Ventures—the State’s venture capital arm—has invested more in our region since The Mill opened three years ago than in the previous ten years combined. Southern Indiana has some fantastic new companies. But those companies still aren’t growing as fast as tech startups in other states, in part because they can’t find the talent they need to fuel growth.
This isn’t unique to Bloomington. The country has a talent shortage across the tech sector. An estimated 1 million tech-related positions went unfilled in 2020. This issue is exasperated in Indiana, given that our state is ranked #34 for finding skilled tech talent in 2021. We’re missing a golden opportunity. Those unfilled jobs pay much higher wages than our local average, and while some require specialized degrees, many do not.
Bloomington is lucky to have Indiana University, Ivy Tech Bloomington, and strong STEM programming in our K-12 school districts. These programs offer top-notch degrees and educational experiences to develop graduates with in-demand tech skills. We are well-positioned for the long run. But in the short term, the needs of the 21st century tech economy are still not being met, and local wages still lag state and national averages. We need to create more ways to connect local people with tech sector opportunities—quickly.
To help address this need, The Mill created Code/IT Academy (recently rebranded from The Mill Code School) in partnership with Ivy Tech Bloomington. Code/IT Academy provides free upskilling training to eligible Bloomington residents and those in surrounding communities. This 10-week program prepares graduates for new jobs in the tech industry. Participants do not need any prior experience or degrees to qualify. Instruction is provided by Ivy Tech Bloomington’s School of Information Technology faculty members and career services are provided by the Career Coaching and Employer Connections office. Code/IT Academy meets three times a year with topics ranging from introduction to software development to CompTIA Security+ training.
About 75 people will graduate from Code/IT programs each year. In five years, we’ll have a trained pool of 375 graduates, accumulating significant career experience, and hopefully drawing new talent and employers to join our thriving tech community.
Our team is wrapping up our third cohort since we launched in October of 2020. The current cohort of 20 participants will complete their introduction to software development training in early December. The program ends with mock interviews and introductions to local employers who are actively hiring tech talent.
Code/IT Academy relies on generous financial support from The City of Bloomington through the Mayor’s Recover Forward plan and American Rescue Plan Act funds, the Duke Energy Foundation, and the Bloomington Urban Enterprise Association.
The Mill is excited to continue developing new tech talent here in Bloomington! Please help us spread the word about the program across the community. While we’re proud of our progress to date, we are always looking for employers who are interested in hiring junior talent and participants who are ready to change their career trajectory.
If you’re interested in joining as a Code School participant, or your company is interested in learning more about Code/IT Academy graduates, visit www.dimensionmill.org/code-it-academy or contact Melissa Ward.