A few days ago, I heard from one of my students and his roommate who both drive for Uber to pay tuition and make ends meet: “Things are not going well, I am hoping things will get better starting March 30th when most jobs and schools open back up and venue bans are lifted, which gives me the opportunity to make the money I used to make again. I’m really hoping we can work this out”
This is one of several messages I have gotten from students at Skillspire, a coding bootcamp, since the Covid-19 pandemic cast a spotlight on inequity. In the wake of the novel coronavirus, the disparities and the struggles to make ends meet are glaring. In cities across America, lower-income workers continue to move around out of necessity, while the upper and middle class stay home and limit their exposure, .
While some silver linings have emerged, such as unity among people, big companies and individuals pledging support for small businesses, the pandemic has unabashedly and dramatically affected low-income, gig economy workers.
For some of us, it’s just a matter of staying in our comfortable homes, going about most daily activities and working with few disruptions. For others, it’s a harsh reality, layoffs or reduced hours, lower to non-existent paychecks, and uncertainty about how to pay rent, putting food on the table, and surviving. Among those who are not as able to avoid illness are the thousands of local rideshare and taxi drivers, service workers, and other hourly workers.
How are we going to do our part, now and when the pandemic begins to subside? If anything, the dramatic change in all our lives in the past several weeks has shown us that change is possible with enough social and political willpower. Do we accept the disparities that this situation has laid bare, and will we send these workers back to their marginalized lives?
My vote is for investing in our community and assisting these workers to skill-up during this down time so that they can come out strong. As I write this from the comfort of my home, my heart yearns to take bolder action collectively with tech companies and community organizations to make a change for the better. As community-based organizations scramble to help, their focus should be on retraining and helping marginalized groups to a “secure” a job.
A Challenge and Opportunity for Tech Companies and Community Organizations
Tech companies and those with hiring power across sectors play a huge role. As they prepare their recovery plans for the rest of this year and into the next, companies should consider how to both save money and invest in the community by creating apprenticeship programs and on-the-job training. Skillspire specializes in preparing underrepresented communities for these opportunities. We can invest in tomorrow by supporting these workers in upskilling today.
I challenge the tech companies and community organizations to support diverse talent, via apprenticeships and similar programs, into their hiring and recovery plans. I challenge them to invest in skill-building and education for underrepresented communities, so that these individuals can use this crisis to build a sustainable future career and living for themselves and their families.
Will tech companies open their hearts and minds to a skilled population, giving a chance for a better future to these under-represented communities? Or will we go back to our old ways of recruiting people just by “merit”? We need the support and advocacy from all concerned parties to really make a difference. I am sure we all hope to look back on it a year from now and say that, amidst a global crisis, I contributed to the betterment of the community in my own small way!
Skillspire’s mission is to advance the careers and futures of underrepresented talent: women, immigrants, and people of color. We envision a tech sector that better reflects the population it serves by training and supporting diverse, historically underrepresented communities in their journey to enter technical careers. We believe that every individual – and especially those from underrepresented communities – should have the opportunity to pursue their dreams in the tech sector.