Capital One Puts Money Where Its Mouth Is With Tech Scholarships

The lack of diversity at tech companies, and the concomitant dearth of opportunities for many Americans to get digital skills that make them competitive is appalling. There are a lot of jobs out there in the tech world, but it seems businesses, especially in the tech and digital sector, aren’t looking beyond their own empty cubicles. 

I recall Joe Lonsdale, founder of venture firm Formation 8, speaking at a Mashable event. He basically got a standing ovation when, during a discussion about industry-funded immigration reform group, he said tight immigration policies keep talent out. 

While companies are certainly in a tech-employment pinch, and pretty much have to hire tech staff from elsewhere, the real solution - for economic and corporate health - is to create an educated, trained, employable American tech workforce. 

Therefore, Capital One is to be applauded for putting $150 million against that goal, as part of its Future Edge program. And this goes way beyond Silicon Valley. If digital competence is table stakes, America's growing population of disadvantaged, quasi-educated people isn’t even in the dining room. Making it easier to import talent will definitely make it easier for Apple to code iWatch 2 but it will serve only to further marginalize Americans who don't have competitive skills. 



I bring this up because I was at an event at education company General Assembly on Thursday where Capital One announced the Future Edge program. On hand were 10 people who have received scholarships through Capital One’s support of GA’s Opportunity Fund to get web development and user experience design training. Capital One will fund about 30 of those scholarships this year.

Carolyn Berkowitz, managing VP of community affairs at Capital One said that being digitally literate is becoming the most important factor for career opportunity. "There is a real skills gap." 

Capital One did some research with data company Burning Glass to find out what employees need, and what jobs show the most earning power. Here are some points: 39% of all jobs today are middle-skills jobs that don't require a college degree but pay above a living wage. That's 7.9 million jobs, 78% of which require some level of digital skills, and those pay 18% more than jobs with none. "Digital skills are the price of entry." And, she said, coding and web design, the most digitally intensive jobs, are growing at the fastest rate. 

She pointed out that those jobs pay, on average, 38% more than other, non-digital, middle-skills jobs. "That was the catalyst. Over the next five years, we will partner with community-based organizations to provide millions of dollars for partnerships and grants. This is just beginning."

Said Jake Schwartz, founder and CEO of General Assembly, "There is lots of talk about the skills gap, and the lack of diversity. How are the on-ramps going to exist, be available and widely known?” He said GA started the Opportunity Fund not just as a small corporate social responsibility program, but as a platform for the general ecosystem. “We hope we are setting example of how companies, governments and communities can work together to solve this, long term.” 

Information technology jobs today make up about 12% of job openings, which doesn’t seem like a big percentage, but that amounts to half a million high-paying jobs. David Wilkinson director of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, said that, really, companies would rather hire at home. That’s pretty obvious. Hiring from overseas costs a lot of money, and those hires aren’t going to stick around. “That makes it harder for us to encourage businesses to bring new operations back to the U.S. If they can't fill jobs at home, it leaves money on the table for lower wage workers. We know and the President knows there is a path to change.”

I suppose throwing money at lobbyists to get Congress to loosen the immigration rules makes the short term. But not at the expense of solid skills training, which, I might add, would cost a lot less than a K-Street lobbyist, and would do infinitely more for society. The real trickle down is that employment equals stability, equals social health. While I’m sure companies realize this, I honestly think there is a real case of intellectual snobbery going on when I hear digital mandarins focus their ire solely on our admittedly draconian gatekeeper rules.

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