NSS Launches Mind the Gap Fundraising Campaign
Are you surprised to hear that 2020 has presented NSS with problems we’ve never seen before and challenges greater than any we’ve confronted? Yeah, I didn’t think you would be surprised to hear that. It’s 2020, so who hasn’t seen problems they’ve never seen before, right? We’ve had lots of chances this year to practice one of our favorite pieces of advice to our students: get comfortable being uncomfortable.
In March, there were all kinds of gaps between how we did things and how COVID-19 required us to act - we had to close those gaps fast: move classes online overnight, done; find a way to hold Demo Days remote, done; mock interviews over Zoom, done. Our students and staff have been amazingly resilient and patient as we rethought everything about how we ran classes and the school.
What’s the problem we need to address in the short term?
There’s one big gap we haven’t been able to close - the slowdown in hiring of junior software developers, data analysts, and data scientists that started in mid-March. The tech job market in Nashville went from 2019’s incredibly robust growth, with NSS grads having the shortest average job search times we’ve even seen, to a much slower market and thus slower job searches and relatively long average job search times. This has resulted in a build-up of NSS graduates that have not yet found their first tech job - who we call Seekers - that need our help and support while they are in their job search.
We find ourselves in a real dilemma, how do we Mind the Gap? On one hand, the pandemic has resulted in lots of motivated adults with the time and the need to gain skills and change careers. But on the other hand, job opportunities in the short term are not as available, so we have graduates who are at risk of drifting away from their potential tech career if it takes too long to secure that first job.
Our explicit promise to our students is NOT just to give them skills in class, but to support them and guide them until they find their first job. Given all of the above, how do we deliver on that promise? How do we bridge the “COVID-19 gap” between graduation and job offer?
We have a plan for “Minding the Gap” and we have started to execute on that plan. However, we don’t have all the funding yet. We’re starting anyway - support for our Seekers can’t wait! But that means we need to find additional resources to help us fully roll out the plan and to sustain it until there’s a full job recovery, which could take most of 2021.
And that’s why we ask that you - our alumni, your families and friends, our employer partners, and the broader grassroots community - help us give our Seekers the future that they have worked so hard to move toward and so richly deserve.
So, What’s the plan? How will my donation help Mind The Gap?
The donations we raise this year from our alumni, the broader grassroots community, and corporate partners will go to fund a series of new or upgraded initiatives all designed to support our Seekers. Several of these initiatives have already started. Others will be launched in October. So we’re doing it - we just don’t know for certain how we can afford to sustain these initiatives. That’s where our friends in the community come in. But let’s look at the initiatives we are launching before we examine how you can help.
Our Seeker support initiatives include the following:
- Expanding our career development and placement support. At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, we had two full-time team members working on career development and placement support for students and Seekers. We knew we were understaffed but as a chronic “do more with less” organization, we were stretching our team to the max before we spent money to add to the team.
The pandemic crashed placements rates in March and April, which meant our team had a rapidly ballooning Seeker group to support and zero capacity to do so. That team has done heroic work over the past few months to redesign all of our career development activities to accommodate remote/online operation and to keep employer engagement and placement activity going. But with the end of the pandemic invisible in the haze, providing expanded levels of support was just not feasible for our current team.
So we decided to double our team - to go from two full-time team members to four. We have hired one of those and she starts in early October. We plan to add the fourth team member in October. It’s the right thing to do, but it’s a big bump in expenses for an organization our size.
- NSS Fellowship Program. Shhh. This one is a bit of a secret as we haven’t announced it publicly. Oh wait, maybe we just did!
What do our Seekers need the most, assuming they can’t yet secure a full-time developer or data analyst position? Experience. Working on real projects, not class projects. Contributing to a real production website, application, or data analysis. Work that can go on their resume and signal to employers that they are ready, they have experience, they are a low-risk bet to hire. That’s what our Fellowship program is all about.
The Fellowship Program is designed to provide Seekers with a 12 week paid “apprenticeship” (small “a” - it’s not a Registered Apprenticeship program, but it serves the same end - real on-the-job experience). The Fellowship Program is designed to connect Seekers with real companies that need development or data analysis work.
Companies may seek NSS Fellows for several reasons:
- They want to build a pipeline of talent they can hire when the COVID-19 recession eases: The company has real needs to get work done. They may also want a way to evaluate potential talent in anticipation of future hiring. Great - bring on an NSS Fellow - possibly at no cost to the company - or at a below market compensation rate (just like an apprenticeship) - and get some project work done while also helping a motivated adult take another step into their new career and while evaluating that individual as a potential future hire.
- Non-profit organizations may partner with NSS to get access to 12 weeks of development or data analysis work by a fully funded Fellow: Nashville is blessed with a myriad of impactful small and medium-sized nonprofits that can’t afford their own full-time developers or data analysts yet they have the same need for systems and data as the largest organizations. NSS Fellows are a low-cost, or even free to the non-profit, resource that can have a big impact in a 12 week engagement.
- Early-stage startups always need more work done than they can afford: An NSS Fellow can give them a well-trained resource for 12 weeks at low cost, or even free. The startup gets work done that otherwise would be delayed or cost much more of their scarce capital.
In all cases, the Fellow (an NSS Seeker), gets real-world experience that helps them build skills and confidence. That experience can go on their resume and help differentiate them from other “right out of school” talent. And they can get paid at a living wage level for 12 weeks of work during the COVID-19 lockdown while continuing to pursue their chosen new career path.
We have hired a full-time Program Manager, who starts on October 1st, to run this program. We are going to help fund some of the Fellowships. All of that costs money that wasn’t planned for. We believe that creating this program has huge benefits for our Seekers during the COVID-19 job market gap and dramatically increases the chances for all of our Seekers to secure the job in tech that they wanted when they came to NSS - but we also believe that a permanent Fellowship Program is a great addition to the services we can offer our students, our employers, and the community.
- Post-graduation workshops and classes. The longer an NSS graduate is a Seeker, the harder it is to stay in touch with their peers and network, the harder it is to keep their hard-won new skills sharp, the higher the risk that they won’t successfully secure their first tech job. We have decided to launch a series of FREE ongoing training opportunities for Seekers to help address this problem. These Seeker classes encompass everything from short half-day workshops to longer, multi-week, deep dives into new skills areas. We’ve already launched this program with a new Mastering SQL course we’re offering for free to web development Seekers - we’ll have two classes before year-end 2020 with a total of 50ish students. We opened up a dozen seats in our evening UI/UX class for Seekers. And in October we’ll offer an A/B testing workshop to our data analytics and data science Seekers.
We plan to expand this series through year-end 2020 and then through 2021. But offering free classes still costs us money.
What are our fundraising goals?
Our goal for the overall 2020 portion of the Mind the Gap campaign is $250,000, with a stretch goal to raise $300,000. That will allow us to fund a robust program of Seeker support, especially the Fellowship program, through 2020 and well into the first half of 2021. We expect to continue our grassroots fundraising efforts in 2021 to ensure we can continue to fund Fellowships and post-graduation training workshops for Seekers until we can put the COVID-19 recession behind us, but the next three months are crucial to supporting our 2020 Seekers.
What’s the timeline?
We are starting now! You can donate online through our fundraising page. We will be reaching out to alumni first with an initial email and then follow-up emails throughout the rest of 2020. We’ll then reach out to the broader grassroots community starting sometime around mid-October. And we will start to connect to employers to gain their support - both in the form of donations as well as them engaging an NSS Fellow - before the middle of October.
Our campaign this year with alumni and the grassroots community will focus on two levels of giving.
Join the Founder’s Circle by donating any amount to NSS through our Mind the Gap donations page. Our recommended donation for the Founder’s Circle is $300 ($600 for couples) but every dollar you can give helps our Seekers - and every dollar you give will go directly to support Seekers.
Or, you can join the 2012 Society (2012 is the year of our founding) with a gift of at least $2012 in 2020 or $1006 in 2020 and a pledge of $1006 or more in 2021. Again, you can join the 2012 Society on the Mind the Gap page.
Please, help us ramp up our support for Seekers. Lend a hand to help a deserving adult get through the final barrier to launching their career in technology.