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After working in education for several years, Jerelyn Rodriguez grew incredibly frustrated with the single-minded focus many stakeholders had on college education as a tool for economic mobility. In response, Rodriguez (CEO) and Joe Carrano (CTO) founded The Knowledge House (TKH) in 2014 in the Bronx.
“By equipping young people with technology skills, they can benefit from the exponential job growth and gain economic opportunity, living wages, and career mobility.” said Rodriguez, adding that, “Since its inception, TKH trained more than 1,800 young adults, with over 75% successfully securing meaningful employment with salaries of more than $50,000.”
Rodriguez was recently recognized as a Luminary by The 1954 Project, a Black-led education philanthropy initiative to fund diverse leaders. In this Q&A, Rodriguez discusses how The Knowledge House helps young people explore tech career pathways and ensures underserved youth have access to job training and workforce development opportunities.
How is your organization helping to create a more equitable landscape for education in the U.S.?
TKH was founded to close the gaps in the education-to-employment pipeline for underserved young people in the Bronx, ages 14 to 35. TKH now serves young people across New York City’s five boroughs and we are expanding our reach nationally to Newark, Atlanta, and Los Angeles.
TKH creates an equitable landscape for education by providing access to technology skills that provide economic opportunity, living wages, and career mobility to Black and Brown low-income young people. Our model combines specialized training in digital skills, coding and design, career support, and a comprehensive network of partners to help disconnected job seekers secure rewarding careers in the tech industry.
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing students of color in the United States today? What makes you optimistic?
Geographic disparities, programming gaps, and capacity challenges limit access for underserved communities and make it more challenging to develop a diverse talent pipeline for the tech sector. For example, tech skills-building programs are unevenly distributed across the city, with Manhattan home to significantly more programs than any other borough. Research also shows that more than three-quarters of tech training programs accessible to low-income adults around the city are focused on basic digital literacy or introductory computer skills. Only a few programs offer the sort of in-depth skills training that can lead to a tech job.
Furthermore, the impact of COVID-19 has exacerbated the unemployment rates in underserved communities and has drastically increased the need for TKH’s tech training programs. The May 2021 report, Preparing New Yorkers for the Tech Jobs Driving NYC’s Pandemic Economy, indicates that since the pandemic, New York City employers have posted more openings for tech roles than any other job category — over 67,000. In total, nearly one in five (18%) jobs posted from April to November 2020 were for a tech position. It is imperative that we make tech training and the tech economy inclusive, equitable, and accessible for underserved young people.
What results do you hope to achieve with The 1954 Project's support and funding?
The 1954 Project’s support and funding will empower TKH to expand its vision and sustain its growth. TKH is implementing its second five-year strategic plan; the two impact goals are to deepen program impact and sustain operations. We will continue to create responsive innovations that enhance our existing programming, such as aligning TKH curricula to credit-bearing opportunities at local colleges and expanding the Bronx Digital Pipeline (BxDP). These innovations and more will help improve our employment outcomes.
In 2021, TKH expanded to three new cities. To achieve this growth, support from The 1954 Project is critical. The partnership will amplify the work of TKH and, more fundamentally, our ability to participate in the movement to support Black leaders and leaders of color as we work to systemically reshape our communities.
Finally, support has allowed TKH to hire a Chief of Operations, allowing our CEO to focus on resource development and fundraising in new cities. Support increases capacity for thought leadership, including public speaking, media opportunities, and advocacy efforts that support TKH’s workforce goals.
How can donors help reimagine our education landscape and better support Black education leaders in the United States?
Donors can help reimagine the education landscape by embracing the fact that college pathways do not work for all populations or individuals. Donors can support workforce development programs that introduce low-income communities of color to opportunities that lead to sustainable careers and living wages.
Why are digital skills the lever you have chosen to shift economic mobility? Can you share an example of a success achieved with this approach?
The Knowledge House chose to use digital skills as the lever to shift economic mobility because the technology sector is both economically promising and often does not require college degrees. There is a critical need for alternative postsecondary education, focused on technology and digital skills, to ensure Black and Brown young people are not left out of the future workforce. Nationwide, there are 531,200 new technology jobs, with a projected growth of 13% over the next decade. In New York City over the last 10 years, there has been an 80% increase in tech-related jobs, approximately 300,000, with an average salary of $152,900 per year. While the growth of the tech economy has benefited many, it has not benefited Black and Brown young people.
Participants need our programs because we provide access to tech training and tech careers they would likely be unable to access without our support because of high costs, lack of technology, transportation, and other barriers. Upon program completion, the adult graduates will secure full-time employment of at least $50,000 and increase wages by 10% after one year.