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Will Web-Era Trade Schools Create Tomorrow's Talent Pool?

Cornerstone Editors

As Millennials rack up student loan debt and feel the lure of Silicon Valley's startup culture, the sentiment is growing: traditional four-year college is for the birds. But it's not just twenty-somethings scoffing at the four-year institution and eyeing high-tech trades. Over half of employees between the ages of 20 and 50 report that they would like to change careers.

A recent onslaught of development bootcamps, dubbed the new "web-era trade schools" by The New York Times, are angling to provide a quick, cost-effective on-ramp into coding careers for entry-level and mid-career workers alike — while also creating a pipeline of skilled talent to meet the demands of the 21st century workforce. Since 2012, 60 or so 8-12 week coding schools have popped up in major cities from San Francisco to New York with names like Dev Bootcamp, Coding Dojo and App Academy.

In today's connected world, pretty much everything requires code, leaving recruiters scrambling to fill open positions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Web developers will see a 20 percent growth in employment opportunities between 2012 and 2022. There are currently around 3 million software engineers in the U.S., and the number is only growing, according to Trent Krupp, VP of talent at development-focused job marketplace, which has started to see job-seekers list bootcamps on their resumes.

These "hack schools" offer students an intensive group learning environment that promises web development or engineering employment — and a decent paycheck to boot. According to a recent survey of 46 bootcamps conducted by online bootcamp directory Course Report, bootcamp graduates report employment at a 44 percent raise from their previous pay rates and an average salary of $76,000.

It's no surprise, then, that students and professionals are attracted to these newly minted, job-pivoting environments. But the question for recruiters and talent managers remains: Does a quick and dirty education really churn out employees with the skills required to shine on the job?

The talent pool

Generally, Krupps says bootcampers who have success finding jobs are those with a base programming knowledge who attended these programs to learn a new skillset in an already familiar field. While students range from college dropouts to ex-fashion designers, these intensive 8-12 week (sometimes longer) programs are most beneficial to those who enter with prior experience, according to Krupp.

So far, most students have joined with the belief that the price tag (anywhere from $5,000 to $36,000 or a cut from a student's first paycheck) is nothing when compared to the return of a competitive salary.

"The people that do well with us are those bootcampers that have prior development knowledge and attend the camps to learn a new skill set," Krupp says.

Indeed, a Fast Company reporter who interviewed bootcamp graduates found success stories primarily with students who attended camp on their company's dime, such as a SurveyMonkey employee who was promoted from accountant to software engineer — and was able to automate processes for the finance department after learning to code.

The coursework

As for the intensity of the programs, reception varies. "The bootcamp model gives you an 'intensive' course good enough so that you're able to build a shitty web app," one bootcamp alum writes on review site Techendo.

Krupp agrees that the pace at which students are learning could be a detriment, finding that while the bootcamps offer a good base layer of knowledge, they don't turn out management-level coders.

The advantages

Though recruiters and talent managers should eye these schools with a healthy dose of skepticism, they may have value for IT departments specifically looking for developers who are full of enthusiasm and have a rookie mindset.

"There are hiring managers out there that are interested in starting with a blank-slate, and want 'diamonds in the rough' that they can then train and polish to fulfill their business needs specifically. 'Build-your-own-developer,' if you will," Mike Grasso, director of IT sales and recruiting for Chase Technology Consultants, said in an interview.

The takeaway

The hype surrounding hack schools does beg the question: Why charge to code (or to learn any skill for that matter) when you can share the knowledge on the job? In IT, as in any industry, there's no replacement for a stellar in-house education program.

The intensive training these bootcamps offer is simply a jumping off point — not a foolproof replacement for on-the-job experience or a guarantee of high-level candidates. They do, however, introduce entry-level talent to a growing pool of developers, at which point the internal training must take hold.

"As the industry stands, recruiters are focused on placing proven candidates with demonstrable professional experience in similar environments to those on the ground at their clients," Matthew Hoffman, a tech scout for Chicago-based Jellyvision, writes sagely on Quora. "That's the disconnect. Bootcamp candidates are more likely to land directly at a company with the resources to support apprentice or junior hires.

Photo: Flickr: Jonathan Eyler-Werve

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