On Friday, December 11, the first cohort of The Mill Code School, powered by gener8tor, graduated in a virtual ceremony. Featured speakers include Mayor John Hamilton and Secretary Blair Milo, the State of Indiana's first Secretary for Career Connections and Talent.
Funded in part through a $100,000 investment by the City of Bloomington, The Mill Code School was a 10-week free pilot program for Bloomington residents to gain entry-level coding skills, in order to access better employment options. No prior experience or degrees were required. Participants could complete the program while also working full-time.
The Mill started brainstorming about the program June of 2020, in response to the economic challenges of COVID, and partnered with nationally ranked startup accelerator gener8tor to bring their ground-breaking upskilling programs to Bloomington. To find Code School students, The Mill and gener8tor worked together to spread the word, collaborate with local organizations, and conduct outreach. The pilot program quickly received about 140 applications for 40 slots, which were prioritized for participants who were unemployed or underemployed and not typically represented in tech jobs. Almost 30% of applicants were minorities, 20 applicants identified as immigrants, and 20 identified as LGBTQ+. Half the participants selected were women.
Over the course of the program, gener8tor team members guided participants through LinkedIn Learning Platform’s Software Developer modules related to core technologies for web development, software development, and databases. In addition, Code School participants received technical, resume, and interview coaching; gained virtual access to a network of peers for support and community; attended lunch and learns; and received interview placement with companies ready to hire candidates with these skills. Gener8tor even went above and beyond the partnership contract and generously donated a Chromebook to a student in need.
Secretary Milo praised the program for being “trailblazing” and commented, “This is such a perfect example of another way that Bloomington is continuing to lead the way in the world, with the collaboration you’ve brought together, and the skill set that graduates have learned to become part of an emerging economy.”
Ivy Tech Community College also supported the program. Their Workforce Alignment Office volunteered for The Mill Code School Lunch & Learn series, and computer science instructors in the School of Information Technology donated hours of technical coaching.
Many of the participants finished the self-paced curriculum early. The program had an 80% retention rate (compared to the average 50% rate). Of the 40 original participants, 32 will graduate on Friday. Moreover, the program is reaching beyond those students. The Mill surveyed applicants who weren't selected to join the program, and of those who responded, 20% have started the software development career track on their own; another 30% said they hadn't started yet, but plan to.
The Mill and its partners supported participants in and outside of the program, addressing life obstacles and working on job placement. “Even once the curriculum is done and the participants have graduated, there's still work to be done,” said Executive Director Pat East, “including the important work of finding funding and preparing for additional cohorts in 2021. We want to build on this success, grow Bloomington’s tech talent pool, and create more opportunities for more citizens to enter the digital economy.”
“We’re your long-term advocates,” gener8tor’s Cole Shearer told graduates during the virtual ceremony. Graduates will receive ongoing job postings; several graduates have already received offers or interviews. “Each one of you is in a position to turn a page and start a new chapter in your life,” Mayor Hamilton noted.
The City of Bloomington’s investment in the pilot program of The Mill Code School is part of Recover Forward, Mayor John Hamilton’s initiative to rebuild Bloomington from the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic collapse in a way that more thoroughly embodies the community’s goals for racial equity, a sustainable and resilient economy, and climate action.
“We’re so proud of the first cohort of Code School graduates,” East said, “for their persistence, bravery, and engagement. We’re excited to see where they go from here.”