WSJ: Big Tech’s Hot New Talent Incubator: Community College

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Long stigmatized as “junior,” community colleges might seem like an unlikely source of talent for major tech companies. Yet, increasingly, some of the biggest tech giants are turning to these two-year schools to find the skilled workers they desperately need.

“Community colleges are just absolutely key,” in companies’ search for new tech talent, says Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of a recent report on the future of work. Tech companies like Amazon, Google and IBM have all caught on, he adds, and the trend of using community colleges to establish talent pipelines for tech companies large and small is “taking off across the country.”

Sam Edwards, a 20-year-old student at Wake Tech Community College in Raleigh, N.C., embodies both the opportunity and the challenges facing students who choose this route.

Wake Tech offers internships with companies that have local offices, including IBM, Lenovo and Cisco, and also does continuing education for employees of companies such as Infosys and Credit Suisse. Five years ago Wake Tech had fewer than 20 students doing internships at companies like these. Today it’s in excess of 400, says college President Stephen Scott.

Overall, the college serves 74,000 students, 90% of whom are part-time, he adds. Mr. Edwards, for one, has three part-time gigs, primarily in tech support. This allows him to work remotely and balance them with his studies. As someone who used to be in foster care, he was eligible for Wake Tech’s Fostering Bright Futures program, which was established to help address the challenges faced by young people who were once in foster care.

The program provides Mr. Edwards, who describes Bright Futures as a “second family,” with living expenses, mentors and a faculty contact he can call anytime, to help with nearly any issue, from finding a place to live to buying a car.

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