Vice President Joe Biden says he’s well aware that the last eight years haven’t been easy for the nation’s workforce.
In remarks on Friday at a roundtable discussion at LanchCode in St. Louis, Biden says the economic downturn in the late 2000s “clobbered” the middle class. And that had tangible consequences for struggling cities.
“As Detroit was crumbling, basically the intellectual infrastructure of the city left,” Biden said. “I mean, it just got hollowed out.”
But Biden said there are reasons for optimism. He said an improving economy and advancing technology provided opportunities to get people jobs in the technology industry. And he said groups like LaunchCode are helping meet an urgent need.
“What you guys are doing here is translating the need into reality,” Biden said. “It’s like knowing how to know. Well, look around the table here. Look at the companies that are represented here. This is not the little league. These are serious outfits.”
The vice president generally steered clear of any political overturns during his remarks at LaunchCode, which helps bolster the careers of computer programmers. The nonprofit organization has helped train and match hundreds of people in St. Louis with big companies like MasterCard and Boeing.
Biden said the effort coincided with the Obama administration's focus on getting more women and minorities acclimated to coding and computer programming.
“Now I will announce an additional $40 million in scholarship funds for women and minorities who are underrepresented in the tech sector to attend coding boot camps and to have a shot at these good paying jobs,” Biden said. “And the goal is to get $100 million in the private sector. And I think we’ll be able to do that in the next little bit.
“And it matters because these investments matter,” he said.
Joining Biden in the roundtable discussion was Jim McKelvey, who helped cofound the nonprofit LaunchCode in 2013. The cofounder of Square said that his group doesn’t “ask the companies to do us any favors,” but, rather, they say “you have a need for talent and we have a source for talent.”
“And on the other side we say to people who want these jobs they’re open to you,” McKelvey said. “And that anyone, and I truly mean anyone, can get one of these jobs if you work hard enough. And we never lowered the standards for that work, so we keep it all about talent.”
Felipe Naranjo was one of the people who linked up with LaunchCode – which eventually led to a job at Express Scripts.
“I had a lot of time to spend on YouTube and I stumbled upon a video in which Bill Gates, Chris Bosh and Mark Zuckerberg were telling me, ‘You need to learn how to code. It’s great. We love it,’” Naranjo said. “I thought if two of the smartest men in the world and a NBA champion with a Georgia Tech degree could do it, why not me?”
“I was very skeptical about my skills. I wasn’t sure I was ready,” he added. “So I waited a long time to apply. And I always regretted it. Because as soon as I applied, they were incredibly welcoming and they had a lot of guidance to give me. They were able to measure my skills and take that measurement and compare that to where I needed to be.”
Biden said groups like LaunchCode help the U.S. fill a need for hundreds of thousands of IT professionals. He added that the federal government can play a role in closing job gaps.
“There’s an awful lot of people out there that have capacities they don’t know they have,” Biden said. “And you know, neither Barack nor I think government is the answer. But government can be a catalyst.”
Follow Jason on Twitter @jrosenbaum