When we were asked to assume leadership of the Capital CoLAB’s Advisory Committee, following in the deep footprints of Wes Bush, the three of us leapt at the chance. As leaders representing three of the largest employers in the Capital Region, we all share a commitment to leveraging our collective resources to create more inclusive and equitable economic opportunities in our communities. The Greater Washington Partnership’s Capital CoLAB — which focuses on building the most diverse digital tech workforce in the country by aligning employer needs with education pathways — pulls together dozens of the region’s largest stakeholders to address this challenge. This is an incredible time to be guiding this work.
Our Priorities for CoLAB
We would be remiss if we didn’t thank Wes Bush for his leadership as the CoLAB’s inaugural Chair. Wes’s vision laid the foundation for a partnership that rallies industry around a common goal and fosters closer collaboration across our region’s education and workforce systems. We are energized by the progress we’ve seen under his leadership and look forward implementing the following work in 2021:
- Increase the number of digital tech students entering the workforce. In 2020, the CoLAB blew its initial student engagement targets out of the water, nearly doubling the expected number of students who joined the CoLAB. In 2021, our K-12 partners will begin engaging students in aligned IT pathways starting in high school, increasing the number of students on the path to enter digital tech careers.
- Increase our focus on equity and engaging diverse students. We are striving to build the most diverse digital tech workforce in the country. Achieving equitable outcomes will require specific investment in underrepresented populations, and our 2021 programming will focus on bringing additional resources to diverse students.
- Continuously improve talent pipeline operations. The CoLAB seeks scalable ways to track student movement through education and into the workforce. In addition to digital badging, we will continue to build systems that allow us to engage with each other and support our goals toward engaging diverse learners in the region.
Why the Capital CoLAB?
By 2025, it is estimated that 60,000 tech and tech-adjacent roles will go unfulfilled. This doesn’t have to be our reality. We know that our efforts make a bigger impact when we work together. By collaborating within industry, across sectors, and across geographic areas, we can quite literally change the future.
Employers play a critical role in shaping the Capital Region’s current and future workforce. As an action-oriented partnership of businesses and academic institutions, the CoLAB offers a platform for employers and educators to work across boundaries and create solutions that grow the tech workforce in a way that mirrors our region’s diversity.
Although the Capital Region’s workforce is more diverse than that of its peers, we can and should do better. The CoLAB places diversity, equity, and inclusion at the center of our work to ensure that the Capital Region has the most diverse digital tech workforce in the country. Using data to hold ourselves and the region accountable, the CoLAB has developed industry-aligned programs that prioritize pathways to high demand, digital technology roles that can provide a family-sustaining wage.
Our work focuses on inputs, too: the CoLAB prioritizes engaging diverse stakeholders — such as our three current HBCU partners and five public school districts across the region — to ensure that more diverse students are accessing the skills and professional experiences that employers want.
CoLAB’s goals are ambitious, but we have already seen quick results. Since our inception in 2018, the CoLAB has advanced regional tech talent programs at an unprecedented scale. With 17 employers, 20 universities, and five K-12 school districts spanning Baltimore to Richmond, CoLAB has engaged almost900 learners in professional and educational experiences that will prepare them for the entry-level tech and tech adjacent roles that fuel our regional economy.
How We Get It Done
At the heart of the CoLAB’s work is its Employer Signaling System (ESS), a process that combines labor market data with employer insights to bring greater transparency to the most important entry-level hiring requirements in the region. This effort “tunes” employer demand across the region’s largest employers, creating a first-of-its-kind source of regional digital tech hiring needs that evolves with the market. Through the ESS, employers play a proactive role in shaping the tech talent workforce, signaling the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) needed for entry-level tech and tech adjacent roles, and helping the CoLAB articulate those needs in a way that makes sense to educators.
This information doesn’t sit on the proverbial shelf—in three years, 15 universities have created course groupings that map to these KSAs and culminate in a Digital Tech Credential. With the credential—which universities award as a digital badge—students can seamlessly signal what they know back to employers. At the K-12 level, five jurisdictions are in the process of creating and enhancing IT pathways that also embed employer-validated KSAs into curriculum, exposing learners to digital tech skillsets even earlier in their academic journey. This March, we launched the first-ever digital tech series geared toward high school students to support these young learners with resources and tailored content to help them better understand what a digital tech career could mean for them.
Finally, CoLAB promotes work-based learning opportunities to supplement industry-aligned curriculum. While we know that unreliable internet access fuels the digital divide, a silver lining in the shift to remote work has been the potential to virtually engage more learners in professional experiences. Internships remain a gold standard, but this shift has challenged the employer community to rethink how we interact with and offer experiential learning. The CoLAB will refine its role within the work-based learning community this year, expanding how our stakeholders approach this work and strengthening relationships with work-based learning providers in the process.
The Capital Region faces many challenges as we all emerge from a difficult year, but we are confident that the CoLAB can meet those big challenges with big solutions. If you are an employer interested in being part of our work, we are eager to hear from you. And to all of our partners, we look forward to seeing what we continue to accomplish together. We are just getting started.