On Friday, December 11, the first cohort of The Mill Code School powered by gener8tor graduated in a virtual ceremony. We’re very proud of the participants’ engagement and success in completing the 10-week program in software development, and of our superb partners’ thoughtful work to support learners at every stage.
This pilot program was a dream hatched in June of 2020, as we brainstormed ways to respond to the economic challenges of COVID. Six months later, we’re graduating our first class. Featured speakers include Mayor John Hamilton and Secretary Blair Milo, the State of Indiana’s first Secretary for Career Connections and Talent. Secretary Milo praised the program for being “trailblazing” and commented, “This is such a perfect example of another way that Bloomington is continuing to lead the way in the world, with the collaboration you’ve brought together, and the skill set that graduates have learned to become part of an emerging economy.”
Funded in part through a $100,000 investment by the City of Bloomington, The Mill Code School was a 10-week free pilot program for Bloomington residents to gain entry-level coding skills, in order to access better employment options. No prior experience or degrees were required. Participants could complete the program while also working full-time.
To find Code School students, The Mill and nationally ranked startup accelerator gener8tor worked together to spread the word, collaborate with local organizations, and conduct outreach. We quickly received about 140 applications for the 40 slots in the pilot program, and focused on finding participants who were unemployed or underemployed and not typically represented in tech jobs. Happily, we were successful. Almost 30% of our applicants were minorities, 20 applicants identified as immigrants, and 20 identified as LGBTQ+. Half the participants selected were women.
Over the course of the program, gener8tor team members guided participants through LinkedIn Learning Platform’s Software Developer modules related to core technologies for web development, software development, and databases. In addition, Code School participants received technical, resume, and interview coaching; gained virtual access to a network of peers for support and community; attended lunch and learns; and received interview placement with companies ready to hire candidates with these skills. Gener8tor even went above and beyond the partnership contract and generously donated a Chromebook to a student in need.
Many of the participants finished the self-paced curriculum early. We’re happy to report the program had an excellent 80% retention rate (compared to the average 50% rate). Of the 40 original participants, 32 will graduate on Friday. We’ve surveyed applicants who weren’t selected to join the program, and of those who responded, 20% have started the software development career track on their own; another 30% said they hadn’t started yet, but plan to. We’re excited that the program is reaching beyond just the initial 40 students.
The Mill and our partners worked hard to support participants in and outside of the program, addressing life obstacles and working on job placement. We’re fired up to keep learning and improving. How do we better support participants? How do we create a system and structure so that if unemployed participants get a full-time job, they still finish the curriculum and still ultimately get a better job?
“Even once the curriculum is done and the participants have graduated, there’s still work to be done,” said Executive Director Pat East, “including the important work of finding funding and preparing for additional cohorts in 2021. We want to build on this success, grow Bloomington’s tech talent pool, and create more opportunities for more citizens to enter the digital economy.”
“We’re your long-term advocates,” gener8tor’s Cole Shearer told graduates during the virtual ceremony. Graduates will receive ongoing job postings; several graduates have already received offers or interviews. “Each one of you is in a position to turn a page and start a new chapter in your life,” Mayor Hamilton noted.
Thank you to The City of Bloomington, whose investment in The Mill Code School is part of Recover Forward, Mayor John Hamilton’s initiative to rebuild Bloomington from the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic collapse in a way that more thoroughly embodies our community’s goals for racial equity, a sustainable and resilient economy, and climate action.
Thank you to Ivy Tech Community College, whose Workforce Alignment Office volunteered for The Mill Code School Lunch & Learn series, and their School of Information Technology, whose computer science instructors gave hours of time to offer technical coaching.
Thank you to our partners and friends at gener8tor, for making Bloomington one of their ground-breaking upskilling programs and for always going above and beyond to help Code School students thrive. Thank you to the many Mill members, companies, and organizations who supported the program by doing lunch and learns, running mock interviews, setting up internships, and finding employment for graduates.
Most of all, thank you to the first cohort of Code School graduates, for their persistence, bravery, and engagement! We can’t wait to see where your talent takes you.