Shifting Code Program Helps Retrain MI Professionals for IT Jobs
According to Monster.com, there are currently 841 open software and IT development jobs in Michigan. Compare that to 319 jobs in manufacturing, 487 in healthcare, and a dismal 46 in creative and design. It’s something I hear often in my line of work: There is a severe shortage of software development talent in Michigan, and people with the necessary skills can essentially find a job immediately.
It’s with this talent shortage in mind that the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) launched the Shifting Code initiative, a job retraining program that graduated its first 26 participants last week. According to Ann Arbor SPARK, one of the organizations that administers the program, 20 companies participated in Shifting Code and 65 percent of graduates have already found jobs at places like Ford and SRT Solutions.
Loosely modeled after the Shifting Gears initiative, a four-month “career transition” program that retrains seasoned professionals for jobs in growth sectors or with small startups, Shifting Code is designed to address the changing needs of Michigan’s employers as the state tries to diversify its manufacturing economy. The Shifting Code program includes an assessment, classroom training, mentorship, and a practicum/internship component. Upon graduation, many participants go on to start full-time or contract jobs with participating employers.
“Governor [Rick] Snyder has really taken note of the IT skills gap,” says Donna Doleman, vice president of marketing, communications, and talent at Ann Arbor SPARK, pointing out that Snyder called for this type of program as part of his “talent message” last year. “The challenge is that many IT professionals may not have a background in a specific language that employers are looking for, which is where Shifting Code comes in.”
Doleman says organizers expected about 50 people to be interested in the first informational session, which was held in January. Instead, about 700 people expressed a desire to participate. Because of that high level of interest and the fact that it costs the state between $1,000 and $1,500 to train each Shifting Code participant, the program has a competitive application process. (In addition, each participant pays a $100 registration fee.)
Most classes, which are held on nights and weekends, are at the intermediate level, though Cell says Shifting Code does provide some entry-level classes. “Most people in the program have a technical background and some prior software experience,” she says, adding that they often have been trained in outdated software languages. “We’re looking for the best fit to meet the needs of employers.”
Subha Ramadoss graduated from Shifting Code last week and on Monday, she started a new job with Commerce Guys, a French e-commerce company with offices in Michigan. She came to the program with a background in physics and microwave engineering. Last year, Ramadoss attempted to start her own scientific research company, but she wasn’t able to get enough funding to keep it going. Though she doesn’t have a computer background, she went to the informational session held in January and decided to give Shifting Code a try. “I didn’t know what Drupal was before,” she says. “It was a challenge—there was a lot to learn in a short amount of time. But once I got into the program, I was introduced not only to the industry, but all you can do with Drupal.”
Ramadoss says she would advise anyone thinking of signing up for Shifting Code to have faith in the program and its organizers. They’ll showcase the industry and teach the programming languages, but it’s up to the students to grab the opportunities, she adds. “It’s worth it because it’s not a long program—you’re not investing a lot of time or money into it,” she says. “Even if you don’t end up getting a job, you’re getting a skill.”