Jobs in tech are growing in Oakland, but will Oakland residents be able to compete for these jobs in their own backyards, particularly in East Oakland, where the unemployment rate is about 8%?
Silicon Valley has arrived in the Town. And some Oakland residents want in on jobs. But tech companies continue to take advantage of the H-1B visa program to hire foreign contractors with specialized skills, for cheaper pay. Although the Trump administration has issued more denials of H-1B visas than in the last 10 years, it hasn’t hurt big companies like Google and Facebook. This isn’t stopping some East Oakland residents from competing for new opportunities in their own backyards.
A small non-profit offers tech-job training for adults
The Stride Center is a tech training non-profit located across from the 12th Street BART in downtown Oakland. About 400 students a year come to Stride’s Oakland location to attend a range of tech courses that earn them certifications recognized around the world. Almost 80% of grads go into tech jobs.
I visited Andrew Hazelbaker’s class at the Stride Center. He was preparing his students for a tech certification exam. Students took turns to come up to the whiteboard and explain programming codes. At one point, Hazelbaker said, “Something’s a mistake. Something was incorrectly placed up there,” and one of the students offered, “Wasn’t it 1 to 126?” “Correct! Yes!” said Hazelbaker, which led classmates to applaud the student’s efforts.
Andrew Hazelbaker, 28, found the Stride Center when he was participating in a re-entry program designed to help people coming out of incarceration find good jobs.
“It was my oasis,” he said. “It was my escape away from stigmas or any type of labels that were placed on an individual who came from prison or is thought of in a negative light.”
After his second year as a student there, the Stride Center asked him to teach their A+ certification course. This is an entry-level course for desktop support. He loves this work.
“Interacting with the students is super fulfilling, he said.” I go to an eight-hour job and then I look forward to coming to the Stride Center and seeing their faces and asking them about their days.”
At the Stride Center, tuition costs are based on each student’s income. Students’ fees cover 40% of costs. The rest is supported by a number of Bay Area-based non-profits and a handful of corporations and foundations.
Andrew Hazelbaker isn’t the only former student who has moved on to be employed by the Stride Center. Jannette Estrada was a student and now serves as the center’s enrollment manager. She would like to see the center’s programs attract more women and thinks that it should target them more in its marketing. She acknowledged that she has seen some progress in this area with the latest group of students.
“In this cycle, the number of women has increased,” she said. There’s a few more girls that are joining the tech, which is wonderful because, at first, it can seem a little intimidating for some of us.”
Federal Funding for Workforce Development
According to Stephen Baiter, former executive director of the city of Oakland’s Workforce Development Board, Oakland got less than $4 million worth of federal funding for workforce development last year. That’s because the city’s 4% unemployment rate is considered low by economic standards. However, the unemployment rate in East Oakland hovers closer to twice that. This is why organizations in Oakland, like the Stride Center and the David E. Glover Emerging Technology Center, take their missions so seriously.
A Small Tech-Job Training Center in East Oakland
The Glover Center is located on Foothill Boulevard in East Oakland. The building has a brightly colored geometric design and is about a 10-minute drive from the Oracle Arena. The Glover Center, like Stride, is trying to bridge opportunity gaps. Executive Director Olivia Cueva, explained how her center works closely with the Stride Center.
“With our adult program, we have in the past actually had a partnership with the Stride Center,” she said. So we have had some really amazing success stories where students have come to our class just to learn the basics of how to use a computer and then have gone on to Stride.”
The Glover Center offers free programs for students ranging from young adults to seniors. Cueva is from the East Bay and knows firsthand how much the community needs a place like the Glover Center.
“David E. Glover opened the Eastmont Computing Center in the late 90s, during the first .com boom,” she said. When he saw that low-income residents in this area were not going to have access to emerging jobs because they didn't have access to basic computer literacy skills.”
However, Cueva explained that it’s not just basic computer skills that the Glover Center teaches as students also learn how to develop technology that can empower them in their personal lives.
“By bringing these tools and putting them into the hands of the community here, we are really allowing them to create things that will actually serve them.” Cueva shared some examples of how this has played out for some students.
“I had one student who created a mood light using an Arduino and LEDs to help him calm down when he felt frustrated. I had a student who created a video game that told the story of what it felt like to be targeted by the police. We've had students who have also created products that have already received seed funding.”
Jorge Flores is the Glover Center’s office manager, as well as a recruiter and instructor. Like Andrew Hazelbaker and Jannette Estrada at the Stride Center, he began as a student and was then invited to work for the center. He spoke from personal experience about the benefits of the grassroots approach of the Glover Center. He met the founder, David Glover, when he was homeless and walking in Eastmont Mall, where the first classes were held. He’s been at the Glover Center ever since.
Other Tech Training Opportunities
In addition to the Stride and Glover Centers, tech training opportunities in Oakland are available through other organizations, such as Hack the Hood, The Hidden Genius Project , TechHire Oakland, and the Kapor Center. And, there are lots of East Oakland residents who are ready to take advantage of them.
EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this article said Olivia Cueva is from East Oakland. She is from the East Bay, but not East Oakland. This story was made as a collaboration between Oakland Voices and KALW as part of our projects Hey Area and Sights & Sounds of East Oakland.