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New ‘boot camp’ aimed at getting more minorities into tech jobs

A recent Mass Technology Leadership Council report found that only 3 percent of computer workers in Massachusetts are black and just 5 percent are Hispanic.
A recent Mass Technology Leadership Council report found that only 3 percent of computer workers in Massachusetts are black and just 5 percent are Hispanic.(RITCHIE B. TONGO/European Pressphoto Agency/File 2017)

The Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts is teaming up with Google and two banks in an effort to chip away at the persistent lack of minority candidates for high-paying coding jobs.

The groups on Friday unveiled a 20-week “boot camp” for Boston-area adults who are seeking information technology careers but don’t have access to training. The program is called MSIMBO, which means “code” in Swahili.

Darnell L. Williams, who heads the local chapter of the nonprofit Urban League, said the program has enough money to pay for as many as 80 people to go through the program over two years, a step toward improving the pipeline of diverse workers who qualify for jobs that tech employers are struggling to fill.

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A recent Mass Technology Leadership Council report found that only 3 percent of computer workers in Massachusetts are black and 5 percent are Hispanic. The council also found that the state is among the most difficult places in the country to hire tech talent.

“It’s a place to start, to indicate that there are folks that have a strong professional desire to work in this space,” Williams said. “If we can provide them with the cultural competency, training, and the skill set to be successful, what we’ve done is open up the door to say, ‘If you give me an opportunity, I will be successful.’ ”

Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Governor Charlie Baker both spoke at the event, describing inclusivity in the region’s growing tech industry as a top priority. Walsh said he hopes to establish coding as a job option that is as prominent for city residents as construction or hospital work.

“There’s nothing more frustrating . . . than to be out and about and talking to people who are trying to find their way into an economy that’s creating jobs and not be able to find the place or the space to make that possible,” Baker said.

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The Urban League program is one of several strategies that government, nonprofit, educational, and industry groups are taking to increase both economic and ethnic diversity in tech, including other intensive training programs such as Resilient Coders that provide a focused, lower-cost alternative to college degrees.

The course — paid for by $280,000 in grants from Google, Bank of America, and a trust administered by BNY Mellon — will start in September with 18 participants, each of whom will essentially work full time on the intensive training.

Participants will receive a $75 weekly stipend to help them pay for transportation and other costs. The Urban League said it is working on finding ways to connect participants to additional training and job placement opportunities after they finish.

The course is intended to give students a grounding in both front- and back-end development, covering the parts of software that users encounter as well as the unseen components that make programs work.

MSIMBO will be focused on people who can’t return to high school but also cannot afford a college or for-profit training program. Williams said the typical student will be 18 to 24, but the program is also helping mid-career workers like Michelle von Vogler of Roslindale, who last year was laid off from a nonprofit communications and policy job after more than a decade in management.

Von Vogler said she tried using state career centers, but they didn’t give her the in-depth tech training she needed. And for-profit coding boot camps, she said, were too expensive.

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“There really isn’t a conduit for adults, people who have been in the job market for a long time, who are in the middle of their careers,” von Vogler said. “They’re going to be teaching me these skills for a job market that’s in demand.”

Andy Rosen can be reached at andrew.rosen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @andyrosen.