A recently created partnership is giving people of color in the Twin Cities an opportunity to earn high-paying tech jobs at one of the region's largest employers.

Minneapolis-based Target Corp. and Dream Corps — an Oakland, Calif.-based nonprofit founded by CNN political commentator Van Jones that was initially supported heavily by music legend Prince — are working together on the Target Cohort Partnership, a paid 10-week training program for potential job roles in software engineering at Target.

The first cohort from the Dream Corps' TECH program of 19 candidates — 10 of whom had little to no experience in tech fields — completed training in December, said Kasheef Wyzard, the national programming initiatives director at Dream Corps. Target hired 18 of the graduates in roles from full-time software engineers to paid interns at the company's headquarters.

"My time in the Dream Corps TECH cohort at Target was one of the most challenging yet empowering experiences I've ever gone through," said Melita Eyton, a Target software engineer and Dream Corps TECH alumni. "The program is helping shape the future of tech and it has changed my life."

The organization will soon accept applications for a second cohort that will begin later this year.

The partnership with Dream Corps enables Target to simultaneously address three challenges: finding software engineer candidates in the Twin Cities market, diversifying the company's tech workforce and achieving equity in the metro, said Mike McNamara, the retailer's chief information officer.

McNamara joined Target in 2015 and said demand for software engineers, and the number of people working in those roles within the company, has increased each year.

"And I don't see that stopping," he said.

The 4,000 or so people working in software, data analytics and other tech roles at Target are responsible for the backbone of some of the company's core business functions such as digital sales, supply chain and marketing, McNamara said.

Typically, companies recruit their software talent from a pool of individuals with four-year college degrees in computer science. That pool, however, is becoming more shallow as demand for tech professionals increases throughout the region, the nation and across the globe.

For the past few years, Target has taken a new approach that involves looking past the four-year degree prerequisite in some cases and recruiting nontraditional talent. The company uses partnerships like the one with Dream Corps TECH to teach individuals new skills, allowing Target to build a talent pipeline, McNamara said.

"It's very important for communities of color to know there is more than one way in," Wyzard said. "You don't necessarily have to just get a four-year degree in order to have a chance at entering the tech sector."

Through its national TECH program, Dream Corps designs a training curriculum tailored to a partner's needs, Wyzard said. The program also has graduated cohorts for Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth Group. Since 2018, 94 people across the U.S. have graduated from the TECH program.

Adding professionals of different ethnic backgrounds not only aligns with Target's diversity commitment, McNamara said, but helps fulfill a company goal to advance racial equity.

Overall, the estimated median tech wage in the Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington metro is $88,981, 68% higher than the median metro wage, according to the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). Software engineers in the metro on average earn about $85,000.

One barrier to gaining that kind of annual wage, however, is experience, Wyzard said, though Dream Corps TECH participants can expect placement into high entry-level roles upon graduation, he said.

"Experience is the No. 1 barrier to tech jobs for people of color," Wyzard said. The intent of the TECH program is to put underrepresented individuals "on a fast track," he said. As part of the program, participants from the Twin Cities receive mentorship from some of Target's tech leaders.

In the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro, only 3% of the roughly 200,000 people working tech-related jobs are those who identify as Black, while only 2% of those professionals identify as Hispanic or Latino, per CompTIA.

Roughly 40 people applied for the first cohort, and the applicants varied from a recent high school graduate to professionals pivoting from their current occupations, Wyzard said.

A similar size of applications, if not more, is anticipated for the second cohort.

When evaluating applications, a team at Dream Corps assesses experiences and tech acumen, but also leans heavily in their aptitude to learn and mind set, Wyzard said.

Nick Williams • 612-673-4021