Where’d that darned gap come from?
How in the world could NSS find itself with so many Seekers? How could we suddenly be in a position such that we looked at our classes and had no idea if those students would be able to find jobs in their chosen new career fields? How did we get in the position where we had to ask you to help us “Mind the Gap”?
Well, we all know what happened - COVID-19 happened. An event outside of anyone’s experience, outside any planning scenario that seemed “realistic”, and so sudden. One consequence of the pandemic was an almost immediate shut down of the job market in mid-March of this year. Overnight we went from what had been the best job market for NSS graduates that we had ever seen (as measured in terms of average job search times for graduates) to … what? All of the landmarks by which we navigated were gone, obscured in a fog. (And that fog hasn’t really cleared - but that’s a topic for another blog post.)
In mid-March when the pandemic hit we had 9 cohorts of students spread across three career fields: software development, data science, and data analytics. One of those cohorts was graduating within the next two or three weeks, to be replaced by two new cohorts, one full-time and one part-time, that were already signed up for class. That meant at least 275 students were active at or had already committed to NSS and, more importantly, we had made a commitment to them. Whatever we decided about future classes - whether to eliminate whole cohorts, whether to reduce the size of cohorts, etc. - we knew that just the existing classes meant that we’d have more Seekers to support than we’d ever had, and that they would need support for, on average, longer than we’d previously experienced. (We’ll write more about the decisions we made regarding future cohorts in an upcoming blog post.)
So what to do about that? How do we make the decision under conditions of “uncertainty” (that’s a nice bit of understatement) regarding future enrollment demand, the duration of any employment slowdown, and pretty much every other factor you can imagine? How do we make that decision at a time when it felt like the pandemic might even be an existential threat to the school itself? And at a time when we had to almost instantaneously reimagine everything about how to train our students and run the school?
The short version of what ensued is that we decided to focus on what we could control in the short term. In March and April, that meant focusing on how to reimagine our learning environment so that students would still get all of the skills they expected when they signed up for NSS, even if they were acquiring those skills in a remote environment. It meant reimagining our career development process. It meant shoring up our short-term financial outlook via a Payroll Protection Program loan we were lucky enough to qualify for. And it meant using the passing time to start collecting information that would allow us to make better informed decisions about how best to support our Seekers and students.
New Initiatives to Help our Seekers Mind The Gap
After three to four months of regaining some sense of stability around supporting current students and gathering hard data about the job market, demand from new applicants for training, placement rates, etc. we believed we could start to make somewhat informed decisions about options to support all of 2020’s graduates - given the length of our programs, the vast majority of whom were accepted to NSS before the pandemic even started.
In my view, we decided to take the offensive at a time when it would have been easy to play defense: to remain passive, to hoard scarce resources until much greater clarity about the pandemic’s duration was available, to wait till a full recovery of the job market was clearly underway, and other key questions were able to be fully answered and risk taken from the situation.
But that’s not really us I guess - we didn’t have answers to all of those types of questions when we started the school, or when we started new programs. (And six months into the pandemic, our crystal ball still hasn’t given us all the answers.) We decided that there is an imperative built into our mission to support our graduates until they find their first job in tech, so we decided to lean in and make the necessary commitments and figure out how to pay for it all as we moved forward.
Our Board of Directors supported a multi-faceted investment of dollars and time into Seeker support. We weren’t sure how we were going to fully fund these initiatives, but we decided that we had an obligation to our students and graduates to shift resources or find resources that would allow us to create a longer and stronger safety net to support Seekers through their job searches.
- We decided to increase staff on our career development and employer engagement teams who support our Seekers by 50% (from 2 full-time staff to 3 full-time staff). We then decided to add another person to the career development team, doubling our resources dedicated to preparing students for their job search and supporting them while they are Seekers. Those two new individuals start at NSS in October.
- We decided to start to program a series of post-graduation workshops and classes for Seekers so that they could continue to build skills and improve their qualifications for jobs. We also decided that these workshops and classes would be free to all Seekers so long as they were still actively involved in their job search. We started this initiative in late August and will continue to roll out new workshops and classes through Q4 and into early 2021.
- We are launching a Fellowship Program to create a way for Seekers to connect with real on-the-job work experience during a paid, 12 week “apprenticeship”. Fellowships may be used by employers as a way to test-drive prospective full-time developers or data analysts or simply be a way for organizations to complete projects that they lack resources to complete. But Seekers get valuable work experience, they get to continue their professional development, and they get to add real work to their resume. We have hired a full-time Program Manager to run this program and we are raising funds to help underwrite payments for some of the Fellowships.
So how do we pay for it? To start, we shifted resources around, financial and employees, so that we could start to implement the expanded Seeker support initiatives. For longer term support, we launched the Mind the Gap campaign - to ask those who have seen the benefits of what NSS does to help us support our students and Seekers who are trying to reap the same benefits. You can learn more about this campaign and the initiatives identified above in our blog, We Have A Problem, You Can Help Us Solve It.
The Mind the Gap campaign launched last week and we’ve already seen several alumni and community members step up to contribute. A big THANK YOU goes out to our first 2012 Society Member, Ryan Tanay of Web Development Cohort 10! Five other alumni have joined our Founder's Circle representing Web Development Cohorts 6, 12, 21, and Evening 8 and Data Science Cohort 1. You can learn more about our giving levels and other ways to support NSS on our donation page. We appreciate any and all support our graduates and friends are able to provide - it all makes a difference.