Jarred Gaines had a lot of big plans for the year. After working as a personal trainer at gyms in the greater Boston area, he was poised to open his own fitness center and build on his independent brand, G Code Performance Training, in March. But like millions of other Americans, Gaines's plans were put on indefinite hold when daily life ground to a halt due to the coronavirus pandemic.
For weeks, the 35-year-old fitness instructor who also worked part-time as a hotel night auditor saw his hours and paychecks diminish. He began offering free outdoor workouts to people who needed an outlet during quarantine and made some extra money by selling branded apparel. Still, his once-solid plans were now up in the air, and he tells CNBC Make It he wasn't sure what to make of his next move.
While coronavirus-related shutdowns impacted nearly every industry this year, jobs in the travel and hospitality industry, as well as in-person services like fitness instruction, have been hit especially hard. Recovery continues to be slow and uneven seven months after the first waves of business closures.
Later in the spring, however, Gaines heard from a friend who was applying to enroll in a program with Per Scholas, a non-profit in the Northeast that trains people for tech careers. Admittedly, Gaines says his only previous tech experience was researching which new iPhone to buy, but he was intrigued by an offering to learn about the Amazon Web Services cloud platform. Both Gaines and his friend were accepted to the program.
Over the summer, Gaines attended virtual lessons and completed labs through a partnership between Per Scholas and the AWS re/Start program, where from Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., he received training in Linux, Python, networking, security and relational database skills.
Since 2017, AWS re/Start has partnered with workforce development programs around the country, like Per Scholas, to provide free coursework and cover fees in order for participants to get certified in AWS cloud computing, explains program director Kevin Kelly. AWS re/Start aims to help unemployed and underemployed people, as well as candidates with no tech background or limited experience in a traditional job setting, such as military service members re-entering the civilian workforce, gain an entry-level cloud computing job upon graduation.
The program's 12-week intensive course, which provides both skills training as well as professional development counseling, launches in five new cities this week: New York City; Newark, New Jersey; Martinsville, Virginia; San Jose, California; and San Francisco.
With the expansion, the AWS re/Start offerings will have active cohorts in seven U.S. cities, including Boston and Washington, D.C., as well as several locations internationally.
As it did in other industries, hiring in the tech landscape cooled off in the spring due to uncertainty in the marketplace, says Mehul Patel, CEO of the tech job marketplace Hired. However, while other parts of the labor market have taken longer to recover, Patel says demand for tech job candidates rebounded by April and May.
Still, Kelly says AWS re/Start has already helped hundreds of graduates around the world complete training, get certified and enter new tech jobs in 2020. "The good news and reason we're launching five upcoming cohorts, and others in Q4, is that we've seen pickup in demand from employers," he adds. "Now they're beginning again to look for entry-level cloud talent."
Such pipeline programs are one way to bridge the gap in what's known as the tech talent shortage in the U.S. In 2019, the IT trade association CompTIA estimated the U.S. had nearly 1 million open IT jobs, due to companies creating more tech roles than there were people with the right skills to fill them. By some estimates, roughly 60,300 people graduate with a computer science degree and 20,000 developers complete a coding bootcamp every year — far short of the roles needing to be filled.
Advocates for technology re-skilling have called on companies, as well as local workforce development groups and public policy measures, to create more opportunities to train workers in emerging tech skills that will lead directly to a job opportunity.
Kelly adds that it's crucial people receiving tech training also receive support in professional development, such as career counseling; resume and cover letter help; job-interview practice and clear paths to employment. "It's not just doing training for sake of doing training," Kelly says. "We want human outcomes to occur at the end of it."
By supporting people who haven't had access to an education in science, technology, engineering and math, skills-based training programs could also bring much needed diversity to the lucrative field that is predominantly male and White.
Providing these programs in geographically diverse regions can also play a role in opening up opportunities for people who live outside of pricey technology centers, such as Silicon Valley or New York City.
For its part, Patel says Hired recently forged a partnership with Lambda School, an online coding school that aims to help people from underrepresented communities enter the field. He says these types of partnerships, along with a widespread adoption of remote work, can really move the needle in terms of representation in tech.
"[It] really democratizes access to opportunities that many segments of the population never had before," Patel says. "It's a really exciting time for the tech industry to lean into diversity and create inclusive environments where people from all walks of life can thrive."
Kelly adds that many employers who recruit directly from the AWS re/Start program are eager to bring in new hires who have additional experience outside of technology. Many graduates have come from retail, hospitality, food service and military careers, he says.
"A lot of people assume they have to have a hard STEM background" in order to complete the program, Kelly says, "but I encourage people who think they don't have the right background to look at the program and dispel themselves of this myth. If they're enthusiastic about learning about cloud engineering and willing to put in the energy, it's a good program."
This week, Gaines started his first full-time job in the IT field as a customer service analyst at IDBS, a research and development company in Boston, where he'll use his new skills to troubleshoot software issues and streamline IT support for its partner organizations.
The Per Scholas and AWS re/Start program "literally gave me a restart in life," Gaines says. "It allowed me to rebuild that confidence and enter a field where I can make a competitive income to sustain myself in Boston."
Encouraged by his experience, Gaines has also enrolled to earn a computer science associates degree with an emphasis in cybersecurity in order to continue his new career path in the tech field. He says his job allows him flexibility, such as the ability work from home and supervise his 9-year-old son doing online learning, and he looks forward to using his new skill set to power up his fitness business on the side.
"It's scary to enter a new field," Gaines says. "There's a lot of thoughts and reservations: Will I be successful? Am I stepping backward or forward [in my career]? But it's been a forward progression ever since I started the program."