Most people are taught that the best way to excel in life is to complete a college education. But the reality is that many well-paying jobs don’t actually require a four-year college education. What they require are motivated people who are willing to learn a specific set of hard skills. And that’s the idea behind the newly founded The Flatiron School in New York City, which provides a fresh take on the trade school concept. “I don’t think the best way to get an education in a technical vocation is to spend $200,000 and four years of your life,” explains Avi Flombaum, Dean of the school.
The majority of programs at The Flatiron School, based in Lower Manhattan, run for 12-weeks and cost program participants just $12,500. In less than two years, the school has graduated 125 students from its various programs, and has caught the attention of investors and policymakers alike. Just recently, the school landed $5.5 million in venture capital and has formed a partnership with the NYC Department of Small Business Services (SBS).
Recognizing that the City’s technology sector was booming, but that many businesses struggled to fill positions, SBS designed the NYC Web Development Fellowship. Participants are trained for in-demand positions such as web programmers and developers, digital designers and engineers.
The fellowship is uniquely geared toward lower-income, inner city residents – many of whom may not have ever considered a job in this line of work. To qualify, applicants must be at least 18 years old, NYC residents, have never been employed as a web developer and must earn less than $50,000 per year or be unemployed. Because the $12,500 program fee is waived, it’s no surprise that over 1,000 people applied for the first cohort of students in 2013.
Despite being in its early stages, the program shows promise. Of the initial 28 students, 16 were female and about half were African-American or Latino, demographics that are traditionally underserved in the technology sector. More than half earned less than $25,000 at the time they entered the program.
During the intense 22-week Fellowship, students attend courses full-time, Monday-Friday. Fellows work in pairs to mimic the team-environment so often found at technology companies (particularly technology startups, which are thriving in NYC). Students build real products, real software that the Flatiron School will then use every day. Finally, SBS engages its robust network of employers to provide Fellows with apprenticeships and teach Fellows about interviewing, the hiring process and workplace best practices.
Upon graduation, the graduates receive support to connect them to jobs that pay over $65,000 annually.
Unlike the growing online education movement, which offers a lot of students a broad course offering, The Flatiron School hopes to reach a small number, but have a massive impact on students’ lives. “We want to create an Ivy League-quality vocational school,” says Flatiron President Adam Enbar.
Internship programs such as these offer real promise to connect underserved residents with well-paying jobs. But in order to be successful, several factors need to be considered, such as employer needs. ICIC has spent significant time researching the best practices for developing successful technology internships. Read ICIC’s Reporting on What Works to learn four key strategies for building successful tech-oriented internship programs.