Did you know the Henrico and Richmond region in Central Virginia was recently named the sixth fastest growing tech hub in the country? And that our pool of tech talent in the area has grown by 15% from 2012-2017? It’s all thanks to the amazing startups, entrepreneurs and nonprofits that have been teaming up and investing time, money, and energy into developing tech talent and skills throughout the Greater Richmond Metro Area and Henrico County.
How can we keep this tech trend growing? By investing in our youth. Richmond, Henrico and surrounding counties have a number of great programs that do just that. But one program that really stands out (and that we have had the joy of working with and supporting) is CodeVA.
How is CodeVA different? They’re actively working to close the skills gaps between students and the tech jobs that wait for them, as well as between different socio-economic groups.
First and foremost, CodeVA is a nonprofit on a mission to bring “equitable computer science education to all of Virginia’s students.” Their organization offers school programs, day camps and many other programs to teach students coding and to foster the analytical skills they’ll need for STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) jobs in the future.
Then, CodeVA goes further. Their course line-up includes programs to support the teachers and community youth leaders (think Big Brother Big Sister volunteers, for example) who want to bring coding to their classrooms and youth groups.
To make this happen, CodeVA partners with schools, parents and communities. Their dedicated people work with local school boards and the state’s legislators to make sure students in Virginia are getting the tech skills and knowledge they’ll need to be competitive and successful when they enter the job market after school.
Preparing for future tech jobs
While this 15% increase in the tech talent pool is good news, it’s not enough. There is still a large skills gap that needs to be filled. In November 2018, the Richmond Times Dispatch reported that “Demand for workers with skills in higher paying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, known as the STEM subjects, [sic] is expected to continue to outpace demand for non-STEM workers over the next decade, based on a new 10-year projection from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”
The Greater Richmond Metro Area will be no exception. Employment in STEM occupations here is expected to increase at a higher rate than employment in non-STEM jobs. It’s crucial to the health of our economy that we have a pipeline of highly skilled STEM workers.
Job creation and keeping up with the labor demands of a modern, high-tech job market are top priorities for Virginia’s governor Ralph Northam. Governor Northam recently said in a press release, “Supporting successful companies like RTS Labs that create high-quality, 21st-century jobs for Virginians is one of my top priorities as Governor, and the Commonwealth is proud to partner with this innovative business as it more than doubles its workforce.”
As part of The Virginia Economic Development Partnership Virginia Jobs Investment Program (VJIP), Governor Northam awarded RTS Labs a grant for our part in creating high-tech jobs in Henrico County and contributing to the startup culture that is making Richmond a burgeoning tech hub. As part of this grant, we’ve committed to creating 90 more jobs over the next few years. This exciting news is just the latest in a string of great articles and media coverage about the growth RTS Labs is experiencing right now.
CodeVA comes to RTS Labs
That’s why we were so excited when Pamela Crook from CodeVA reached out to see if we would host a group of 40 tenth graders in our office! We jumped at the chance to bring them into the office and engage with our team.
The day started with an introduction of who we are, what we do, who our clients are, and what projects we’ve done. Then, we broke them into two groups and provided orange juice and doughnuts to one set of students while the other group took a tour of the office.
After both groups had gotten their treats and a tour, we brought out a panel of developers. We pulled four of our engineers, all of whom came to the field in very different ways. They each wrote their own introductions and bios, so the group of students would get an idea of how they became engineers. One engineer was self taught. Another one was on his second career. Another came to RTS Labs straight out of college. By hearing such diverse stories, the students got a chance to see that there’s no one path to a high-tech career – and that many different kinds of people can gain the skills necessary to work in tech. You just have to have a willingness to learn and the drive to practice and become good at your new high-tech skills.
We asked each panel member a number of questions regarding their experiences and what it meant to be a software engineer. Then, the students got to ask their own questions. They got swag for asking questions as a way to spark engagement. We concluded the event by showing them websites and tools that would help them learn more about coding and development, as well as help them refine their skills.
The enthusiasm was contagious
Overall we had a great time, and our team was energized and excited to help spark these young minds! This experience was a first for many of the students. Outside their CodeVA programs, they had not had much interaction with companies and developers who code for a living.
Pamela later told founder and CEO Jyot Singh, “I can’t begin to thank you all at RTS Labs enough for your hospitality. The students loved being there and listening to real people doing the jobs they want to do in the future. Many of them came back and said they wanted to work for your company.”
As much fun as the students had, our team had just as much fun and felt talking to the students was very rewarding – especially since the teens had so many questions. We are excited to provide CodeVA with continued support in 2019 – and to hopefully inspire more future coders and developers.