Thoughts

MLK Day workshop with 5 Hopeworks trainees

This MLK Day, we hosted a workshop with trainees from Hopeworks in Camden.

by Leigh Passamano

This Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we coached young adults from Hopeworks in Camden on careers in tech and reinforced their resume-editing and interviewing skills.

Economic empowerment was a cornerstone of MLK’s fight against inequality and inequity. With that in mind, we set out to plan a day of service that supports his ideals.

Our employees crave opportunities to help young adults entering this industry, especially those that don’t already have an “in.” We had known about Hopeworks for a while and reached out to see how we could be of most help. Before we knew it, we were outlining a workshop to share our knowledge about careers in tech and applying for tech jobs.

What is Hopeworks?

Hopeworks teaches tech, career, and other life skills to young adults (18-24) in Camden, many of whom have experienced severe trauma. They help trainees develop portfolios and the soft skills needed to land their first job in tech.

Their trainees learn Photoshop, HTML, CSS, Javascript, and other skills related to tech. Trainees also receive life readiness support, ranging from housing to continuing education. And unlike other coding programs, they are paid a stipend for their work.

Hopeworks has helped place dozens of graduates at regional tech companies and Camden businesses like American Water. Their grads can also get a paid internship at Hopeworks directly; Their in-house web-development and GIS shop builds digital products.

Their mission is "not just to fill tech jobs, but to change the trajectory of lives,” says Dan Rhoton, the Executive Director of Hopeworks.

How we spent the day

We had three main objectives that we wanted to achieve through this workshop:

  1. Dispel or affirm myths about what it’s like to work in the industry, and how to get in.
  2. Shed some light on technical and non-technical roles - i.e. what exactly do “UX Designer” or “Business Development” do?
  3. Provide direct, actionable feedback to their resume or interviewing skills

We started the day with reflections on what MLK’s legacy means to us individually. One trainee explained how his grandfather lived through the '50s and had more sinister predictions of how the job prospects would look for African Americans in 2020. He believes that his grandpa would have been proud to see how this day turned out.

For the career overview, one person from each department at Promptworks spoke about how they got into tech, what a typical day looks like for them, and how they work within a team to create client products or sustain the company.

Next, we broke off into groups of 3 or 4 to do resume reviews. Promptworkers sat down with one of the Hopeworks participants and gave them individualized feedback and changes that they could make to improve their resume.

The final activity of the day was a mock interview exercise. We broke off into the same groups of 3 to 4 and did a mock interview where one of our staff members acted as the interviewee and the others asked them typical interview questions. We decided to turn the tables this way to take the pressure off of the Hopeworks participants and also give them the opportunity to observe and reflect on good (and bad) interview responses.

At the end of the day, we all gathered to reflect on what we learned, what went well during the workshop, and what we would change if we were in charge. Here are some of the group’s reflections paraphrased:

  • This workshop opened my eyes to new avenues into tech
  • The Promptworks staff gave useful feedback in a non-condescending way
  • Will use this knowledge to continue to grow
  • Hope that this begins a relationship between Hopeworks and Promptworks and the connections made last past the workshop

What we learned

This day was equally a learning opportunity for our staff: Who are these young people, what are their histories, what are their dreams, what skills do they already bring to the table, and how can we help them achieve their goals?

The day helped us crystallize what our role in supporting these individuals must be: We must be their bridge builders. These trainees need employers who can understand that not everyone starts from the same place, and that we ought to value the soft skills that they have acquired, not just their technical prowess. We have important roles as mentors, contacts, and allies in the industry who can help connect them to future opportunities and continue to help them grow as young professionals.

They need people who understand the urgency of acting now, instead of waiting to be asked for help.

They need this support consistently, not just one day a year.

We are already talking to Hopeworks about other ways we can be involved and how we can invite those students back for internships and be a continual source of career exposure and connection to the industry.