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Technology

Bridging The Digital Divide

By Johanna Cano, posted Sep 16, 2022
DigitalBridge Wilmington will help Wilmington residents wanting an entry into a digital career. (Stock photo)
Recognizing that tech skills translate to high-paying jobs in a growing tech career field, the city, along with community partners, will launch a new project to skill workers and pair them with local employers.
 
DigitalBridge Wilmington will provide training, access and connection to in-demand jobs for Wilmington residents wanting an entry into a digital career. As part of its community investment plan to use American Rescue Plan funding, the city of Wilmington announced a $2.5 million investment to launch this program.
 
Three organizations will collaborate for the project: Cape Fear Collective, StepUp Wilmington and Wireless Research Center of North Carolina based in Wake Forest.
 
DigitalBridge Wilmington will be housed at StepUp’s office at 621 N. Fourth St., said Will Rikard, executive director of StepUp, a nonprofit serving individuals facing unemployment and underemployment.
 
The organization will serve as the community program anchor for DigitalBridge. StepUp’s existing pre-employment training and Beyond Talent service will support the new project’s tech training.
 
“Our goal is to meet people where they are, build their soft skills, connect them with the right training program, and then connect them with employers seeking technology-skilled staff,” Rikard said.
 
This initiative aligns with StepUp’s mission of moving people up the economic ladder through employment and wage growth, he said.
 
“Recognizing the opportunity and impact that technology employment provides, our five-year strategic plan included the goal to provide a technology employment accelerator as a community need,” Rickard said. “So, the DigitalBridge partnership was a great opportunity for us to effectively realize our strategic goal and meet the strong community need.”
 
The project aims to benefit both individuals looking to grow their careers or get better wages and local businesses that need digitally skilled workers, he said. Participating employers include Live Oak Bank (who recently announced plans to hire 200 employees), nCino, Vantaca, MegaCorp Logistics and Monteith Construction.
 
In its announcement of the funding approval, the city of Wilmington cites data from the Cape Fear Talent Survey that shows that up to 17,500 new jobs are estimated to be added to the local economy between 2020 and 2023, many of which will require digital skills. 
 
“DigitalBridge Wilmington will meet residents and employers where they are and enable all segments of the population to take advantage of the digitization of the local economy,” the announcement stated.
 
This follows trends in the state and nation showing an increase in demand for IT and tech-related jobs.
 
While demand is high, the city outlined the digital divide – a gap between those who possess digital skills and readily available access to technology and those who do not – as a priority issue in the community.
 
This workforce development program will focus on specific high-opportunity, high-need census tracts in Wilmington and will have the priority of filling local job opportunities.
 
With the project slated to launch early in 2023, one key element is Talent Pipeline Management, which “maps the local workforce to prepare for current and future needs that will inform the curriculum and allow classroom-to-career pathways so that individuals who participate in the program are preparing for actual job opportunities that exist,” city spokesman Jarod Patterson said in a city council meeting.
 
This Talent Pipeline Management will be conducted by Cape Fear Collective, a social impact nonprofit, that will work with employers to determine local skill and talent needs for tech-related jobs.
 
“This will be an extension and deeper dive into the Cape Fear Talent report which surveyed employers in 2020,” Cape Fear Collective CEO Meaghan Dennison said. “Additionally, we will embed a data scientist on our team to support program evaluation and impact measurement across the DigitalBridge initiative, from intake to job placement.”
 
This initiative also aligns well with Cape Fear Collective’s work, which includes the 2021 Inclusive Economy report that had several recommendations to improve the inclusivity and economic mobility potential in the community. 
 
“The city’s investment into tech talent development speaks to two of those recommendations – invest in sustainable career paths and remove barriers to education and work,” Dennison said.
 
Some program activities outlined by the city include a digital skills assessment, one-on-one meetings with a digital coach, individualized skills training, certifications, resume building and, finally, the career launch.   
 
“If we collectively remove barriers to short-term, high-impact training opportunities,” Dennison said. “Individuals and families will have increased opportunity and access to self-sustaining wages and career advancement."
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