As the world advances and businesses modernized, the need for tech operators has grown tremendously and the pandemic has put that need in hyperdrive. A Missouri prison is trying to fill this gap by training inmates in computer programming so they can join the tech workforce after their release.
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Prison education programs can drastically help break the cycle of people returning to prison once they are released. The tech nonprofit providing this training, LaunchCode, wants to give these Missouri Eastern Correctional Center inmates a productive knack so they have a better chance of success.
“I’ve heard that the people who come from the toughest places are often the toughest and best programmers because they’ve been through a lot, and we see it through these students,” said Jeff Mazur, Executive Director of LaunchCode.
“We are in dire need of technology workers for the growth of the United States, for the growth of our economy, for the growth of our companies,” said Jennifer Grundy Young, CEO of Technology Councils of North America or TECNA.
Young says nearly all companies need tech workers now, and the pandemic has only increased demand.
“Everyone retired to their home and the way they communicated to the world was through technology, so the tech workforce just got amplified,” said Young.
Young says the U.S. Department of Commerce expects net growth of 1.3 million new tech jobs by 2025.
At the Missouri Easter Correctional Center, inmates can learn comprehensive web development and coding through LaunchCode’s “JusTech” program, with the idea that they can develop skills to work in the tech industry after their release.
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“It is incredibly inspiring to see a group of individuals who, somewhat against all odds and without the Internet, have taken on the challenge of learning to code and have been successful,” said Haley Shoaf, vice president of justice programs at LaunchCode.
“Anyone, regardless of their background, should have the opportunity to acquire a skill that gives them a productive career in technology,” Mazur said.
David Thiele has been in custody for six years on multiple charges, including domestic assault.
“This is probably the best thing this field has to offer by far, so I thought I’d go ahead and take advantage of it,” Thiele said.
His father and sister were in computer programming and he says technology has always interested him.
“The opportunities are endless. The tech industry is huge, so I can pretty much do what I want as long as someone puts me on board,” Thiele said.
Thiele has completed the program and continues to learn more as she prepares for her release in a year’s time.
“This opens a whole other door to something I thought I would never be able to do. I probably wouldn’t even do it on the street, but just the fact that I did it in prison is amazing,” Thiele said.
While Young says this program is encouraging, the need for tech operators is huge and will continue to grow, so the shortage probably won’t go away anytime soon.
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“We know that working with this universe of people will not fill this huge gap that exists in the technology workforce. We have to work with tens of thousands of people from all walks of life to achieve the goal of building this workforce. But we think that. the story of those who are incarcerated is in many ways the same as other people in the public. They are just people who really want to do it and have not had the opportunity through traditional means to do so until now and LaunchCode wants to be the organization in can provide them with this opportunity, ”Mazur said.
So far a total of 47 people have graduated from the technology program. The program actually expanded to a second prison in Missouri and hopes to expand to a women’s institute within the next year.