Only 4% of the state's technology jobs are held by Black Minnesotans. Latinos hold just 7%.
That is evidence of a big skills gap that the state hopes to solve through a $1 million pilot program underway and another $28 million Gov. Tim Walz has proposed to invest in IT training programs aimed at teens, young adults and people of color across the state.
The programs would be among the first in Minnesota to focus on bringing IT training to communities of color.
Software development jobs in Minnesota pay $100,000 a year, and machine programmers make $64,000 a year on average. Both of those fields are growing at a rate of 21 and 22% a year, said Steve Grove, commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development.
The low numbers of people of color in these fields reflect a lack of awareness about the career opportunities and a digital-skills gap, said Marc Majors, deputy DEED commissioner.
"Frankly we need something there," said Grove, adding that Minnesota ranked the 50th state in the country for the number of high school seniors who passed an advanced placement exam in computer science.
The $1 million pilot program made four grants to nonprofit and community groups: the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center ($215,468); the Minnesota State IT Center of Excellence ($300,000); Prime Digital Academy ($200,000); and Software for Good ($200,000).
The groups are now in the process of writing curricula for the training programs and partnering with companies such as Comcast, Microsoft and Medtronic to create teaching, mentoring, internship and job-placement programs.
"I am thrilled that this new program will engage young, creative BIPOC Minnesotans in tech-career pathways," Grove said at a recent gathering of educators, technology experts and Comcast officials at the Phyllis Wheatley center in north Minneapolis.
"Across the board it is technology jobs that will be the future of our economy," he said, and yet the state doesn't have a sufficient pipeline of job candidates who are ready to jump into the industry.
Comcast Twin Cities, which is working with the Phyllis Wheatley center on its program, hopes to advance its diversity and equity initiatives.
"It would be amazing to have people [at Comcast] who started their [digital] career path here. Personally that would be my dream," said Allyson Hartle, Comcast's vice president of state government affairs.
The center also is working with Medtronic on internship and job placement.
The program at Phyllis Wheatley is now 12 weeks into "hyper coding" classes, said Quanda Arch, the center's DigitalTechWorks Academy program director.
Phyllis Wheatley also just partnered with North High School, where it plans to teach a new series of software, computer graphic and game-design classes using the state grant funds, she said.