From Announcement to Inception Back in February of 2021, Bitwise Industries unveiled a plan to begin pioneering an initiative called the Digital New Deal. Since that announcement, we’ve been featured in multiple publications like Fast Company and even Forbes detailing the impetus for this plan and our goals behind this initiative. Here, we’d like to break it down a bit more and really get to the heart of what we’re trying to accomplish with the future’s technology workforce, how we plan to leverage that workforce—and how our mission and this initiative collide. Let’s Talk About Our Mission We’ve never been shy about our mission as an organization—or about the technology movement we’re leading. Bitwise Industries connects humans from marginalized communities to skills and opportunities in the tech industry. We provide paid apprenticeships to students to learn tech skills, hire them to build real-world custom software, and build vibrant buildings in underestimated cities to house this tech ecosystem. This important work ignites and transforms the regional economies of the cities in which Bitwise serves. By creating this sustainable workforce model, Bitwise Industries is beginning to chip away at centuries of systemic poverty, racism, and structural inequity by creating access to technology opportunities where there wasn’t access before. That said, the pandemic illuminated some opportunities for the workforce we’re building—and that’s where the Digital New Deal begins to take form. Pandemic Hardships Reveal Opportunity The COVID-19 pandemic triggered an economic collapse that not only resulted in millions of people out of work, but illuminated unmistakable weaknesses in outdated federal websites and networks throughout our government’s infrastructure. As people across the nation began seeking support services in the midst of a growing pandemic, state and federal online systems could not support the volume of requests even though billions of tax dollars are spent each year to prop up government IT. Catastrophic system failures left people facing frozen screens as they sought life-sustaining resources, unemployment information, and healthcare updates. Those hurt most by these shortcomings were predominantly Black and brown communities now faced with record-setting unemployment and still, to this day, in need of assistance. A report released by the Government Accounting Office in 2018 exposed the Federal IT systems in most need of modernization, including the Department of Treasury, Social Security Administration, and the Department of Education. All three of these very important systems are functioning on legacy platforms nearly half a century old—not to mention the cybersecurity risks and maintenance costs that accompany that older technology. This is where our mission and our purpose of growing tech in underrepresented communities can be factored into this solution. Apprenticeships & Public-Private Partnerships to the Rescue The Rand Corporation conducted a study that noted that a serious obstacle in updating these decades-old technologies is a lack of coders trained in the programming languages upon which these websites were originally built. If training and budget are required to bring these systems up to date, why not invest in apprenticeship models that deliver updated software and give people from the marginalized communities hit hardest by the pandemic a chance to learn the tech skills needed to move out of the lower third of the economy? This is the gap we aim to fill with our burgeoning workforce of tech apprentices at Bitwise Industries. Now’s the time to leverage the idea of public-private partnerships to address the United States’ critical IT issues with smart initiatives that train a new generation of diverse technology employees. Apprenticeships can rebuild deteriorating IT systems and develop tech skills in those who have been historically excluded from opportunity in the tech economy. Communities of color and/or concentrated poverty face financial barriers to entering the tech workforce simply because they can’t afford the training/education. Earn-while-you-learn apprenticeships eliminate these barriers, lift communities out of systemic poverty and deliver much-needed modern software. There are many benefits to the apprenticeship model, which is the very model from which Bitwise works. By applying this model, people who are out of work get on-the-job training and underrepresented individuals can emerge from this pandemic with the growth skills needed to participate in the digital economy. Workforce development through custom apprenticeship programs will benefit government agencies and the entire economy. New Administration = New Opportunities The new administration has indicated strong support for investing in training that will build a more inclusive middle class. The Biden platform for education proposed to make “a $50 billion investment in workforce training, including community-college business partnerships and apprenticeships.” These funds will also be used to strengthen the Registered Apprenticeship Program. Not all local or state government agencies have the bandwidth to create an entire apprenticeship training program in-house, but Bitwise is here to be that resource. Apprenticeship models such as ours are becoming a favored choice because it puts the logistics of finding apprentices, educating them and providing on-the-job training on us—which specializes in this workforce model. Organizations like Bitwise fill a critical need that has traditionally been overlooked, by facilitating training that can be tailored to an organization and offering a path to success for an underemployed/under-represented workforce. Broadband Expansion The expansion of broadband access can remove geography as a barrier to participating in the digital economy. California and New York are leading the nation in pushing increased access to broadband services for underserved communities. The California legislature’s AB 34 provides funding to “close the digital divide” to rural, urban, suburban, and tribal communities who have been left behind in the digital economy. New York has invested half a billion dollars to achieve the goal of ensuring broadband for nearly 100 percent of its state residents. The time is ripe to advocate for strategic investment in historically disenfranchised people who can create new digital infrastructure for government. It is clear that the nation’s deteriorating digital infrastructure presents an opportunity for profound economic growth and inclusion. Policymakers today have a monumental opportunity to influence how the digital infrastructure of the nation is rebuilt and create a diverse and representative future tech workforce in the process. Ask Us Things! If you want to learn more about Bitwise’s Digital New Deal, schedule a chat with us! Or, if you have a mobile app idea you want to develop, reach out to us using this link. We speak business and technology, so we can help you plan and build. This post was written by Celeste A. Barron, Content Development Manager at Bitwise Industries. She’s currently writing and gazing out of the window of a rural property on the rolling hills of northeast Montana.