Right now there are 1,200 unfilled jobs requiring skills in computer coding in Mississippi.
But if all goes as planned, said Paul Luckett, there will be 10 people in the Golden Triangle area with the skills to fill those positions by November.
Luckett is the director of the Golden Triangle Coding Academy in Columbus, an 11-month program for high school graduates that teaches coding and other technological and life skills. GTR Coding is one of two Mississippi Coding Academy programs in the state, a $25,000 career-advancement program offered tuition-free thanks to funding from East Mississippi Community College and other state organizations.
Luckett said the demand for computational learners in the workplace has been growing steadily. This program is a “path to career advancement” in a growing field in Mississippi.
“The whole point is making sure that industry in our area has the talent they need to be competitive,” Luckett said. “That’s the reason that we exist.”
The academy’s first class of 10 students — nine of whom have connections to the Golden Triangle and five of whom graduated from Columbus High School — will graduate in November with skills ranging from software development to webpage design, along with life skills like financial management and professional development.
Though the first class is only halfway through the curriculum, Luckett said he has seen drastic development in the students from day one.
“They are able to code at a level that would rival some college graduates,” he said. “These people are going to provide real and genuine benefit to whomever may employ them.”
The students learn in a work setting at Brandon Central Services in Columbus from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The program is meant to simulate the workplace rather than tradition schooling.
The bulk of classroom time is focused on technological skills, coding instructor Andrew Stamps said.
“I want them all to succeed,” Stamps said. “I think they’re a great bunch. They’re great coders. A lot of them, once they’re done with this program, they’ll have an opportunity to have a nice career at it.”
The students spend about 80 percent of instruction time on coding. The remaining time is spent learning and focusing on soft skills, said classroom instructor Angela Bluitt. Bluitt teaches the coders about financial management, professional development, team building, interviewing and building resumes. The soft skills not only teach student coders how to acquire jobs with their new skills but also how to maintain those careers, she said.
Bluitt also facilitates students’ on-site visits and tours to state businesses and industries, such as BankTel Systems in Columbus and the Army Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg to see how coding is implemented in the workplace. Bluitt said the companies they have visited so far have shown a strong interest in the academy and its students.
“(Army Corp of Engineers) were excited about having another pool to choose (employee applicants) from,” Bluitt said. “Especially excitement of having applicants from our state, rather than having to go outside the state to recruit.”
Luckett said the program will benefit local businesses in the Golden Triangle, and Mississippi more broadly, as much as the student coders themselves.
“One of the key cornerstones is that we are industry-driven,” Luckett said. “We are going to industries and saying, ‘What is it that you need and how can we be a part of making that happen?'”
“It lets other agencies know that there’s a base of talent here, and they’re interested, they’re homegrown, they’re local,” he said.
GTR Coding Academy is currently taking applications for its second class, which starts later this month and will end in May 2019. Bluitt is hoping to have 20 students in the second class. The application deadline is June 13. For more information or to submit an application, go to https://www.mscoding.org/gtr2018/.
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