Facebook. Snapchat. Twitter.
Those are some of the many social media giants that Hussein Farah has seen African immigrants in Minnesota use on a regular basis. Now, he wants young people to start thinking about the innovative work process that goes into developing them.
To help them get there, Farah founded an organization, New Vision Foundation, which currently offers coding and advanced IT training classes to African immigrant high school students in Minneapolis.
“We want our kids and our community not just to be consumers of technology, but creators of technology,” he said. “Right now we’re only consumers; we’re not on the table designing or creating the future Twitter.”
But for now, the 2-year-old organization’s focus is on introducing young people to the growing jobs in the tech industry, which in recent decades has become a crucial driver of economic growth and source of employment.
Coding experience, internships
To prepare them for the tech workforce, which boasts more jobs than workers, the program equips participants with coding experience and certificates. It then connects students to paid internships in the industry.
New Vision Foundation’s first training program was launched at Southwest High School with a few freshmen and sophomore students who expressed interest in learning about digital literacy.
Today, the program has been expanded to Minneapolis’ South High School and Edison High School. In the next year or so, Farah says, he expects the classes to also reach several high schools in St. Paul, which also houses a large population of African immigrants.
New Vision Foundation has two requirements for students who are interested in joining the classes. First, they must be from low-income families; and second, they must commit to show up to the after-school program once a week for a year.
In return, the students will learn about coding languages, how to build websites and create apps. “We also go into teaching the whole nine yards of IT: database, computer networking and cyber security,” Farah said. “We want to give them a flavor of everything in IT.”
At the end of the program, participants will receive certificates and new laptops. Then, they will be placed in paid internships through Minneapolis’s STEP-UP Achieve and St. Paul’s Right Track, programs, which provide high school students with summer job opportunities.
First of its kind
The advanced IT training service that New Vision provides, Farah noted, is the first of its kind for the state’s African immigrants, a vibrant and growing community that has long been visible in the transportation, education and health industries.
Now, Farah wants to draw them into the tech industry, where black employees make up a small fraction of the workforce. “We want to make sure that students who are talented in IT and have the certification can actually get the well-paying jobs available in the field,” he added.
While New Vision Foundation wants young people in the community to understand that they can get high-paying jobs without college degrees, Farah said the program also teaches them about the traditional four-year college route to the profession.
New Vision Foundation is part of the growing number of career pathway initiatives in Minnesota that have been established in partnership with city and state agencies as well as with businesses and educational institutions in an effort to address the skilled workforce shortage.
In the coming years, Farah said, he hopes that New Vision Foundation will be in every middle and high school with a large African immigrant population — including those in St. Cloud, Rochester, Mankato and beyond.
Massive shortage of skilled workers
Engaging communities that haven’t been traditionally engaged, said Tim Barrett of the Minnesota High Tech Association, is particularly important today as the tech industry faces a massive shortage of skilled workers. (In Minnesota, there are currently 11,000 job vacancies in STEM.)
Many people — and particularly those in communities of color — aren’t aware that IT jobs aren’t limited to certain companies such as Google and Amazon, he said. There are traditional companies such as Target, Cargill and 3M that often rely on tech professionals to stay competitive.
“I’m just glad to see a group like this focusing on a particular population that could benefit from these kinds of jobs,” Barrett said of New Vision Foundation. “At the same time, they could contribute a lot to technology.”