As customer relationship management (CRM) manager at Olin Business School’s marketing and communications department, Patti Chesler wanted to build out her team. She needed to find someone well-versed in the CRM system Salesforce, who could understand the school’s requirements within the cloud-based program and help construct necessary customizations.
That perfect person proved to be elusive.
“I’d posted the job but just wasn’t really getting many candidates,” Chesler recalled. “People who understand Salesforce are very in demand, and we were competing with corporate America for skilled resources within the Salesforce base.”
That’s when Chesler turned to the St. Louis-based nonprofit LaunchCode for assistance. Founded by Washington University alumnus Jim McKelvey Jr., the organization focuses on providing free tech training, paid apprenticeship opportunities and, ultimately, full-time job placement for people with the passion, drive and aptitude to break into the tech industry.
“LaunchCode serves by listening,” McKelvey said. “We have over 300 different local employers in St. Louis and each one seeks talent in their own ways. Because LaunchCode draws from such a large talent base for its free education and then matches the graduates with their chosen employers, we help institutions like Washington University get great cultural fits. It’s about choice. LaunchCode allows its graduates to pick their ideal employers, which makes for some very loyal and happy employees.”
Chesler connected with Claire Martin, LaunchCode’s company relations manager. Martin — also a university alumna — then matched her with several LaunchCode graduates she thought could exceed expectations for the position at Olin.
Enter Jennifer Collins, a former wine buyer who was ready for a new career challenge. She’d already completed LaunchCode’s CoderGirl course, continued her studies at a community college and eventually enrolled in WashU’s Data Analytics Boot Camp. She landed the apprenticeship at Olin and started her work with Chesler in September.
“I knew I wanted to change professions, and meeting with like-minded women, especially in the IT space, where women don’t always have the strongest presence, was a real boost,” Collins said. “It really got me going into the direction that I’m in now.”
While Collins and another LaunchCode apprentice are currently working toward full-time employment, another has already completed an apprenticeship and is now a full-time employee at the School of Medicine. Making the transition from apprentice to full-time employee is now easier thanks to a new agreement, which streamlines both intake and hiring. Washington University IT, with assistance from the vendor management office, worked with LaunchCode to draw up the deal.
“This agreement gives departments across campus the ability to get LaunchCode graduates in the door from a hiring perspective,” said Amy Walter, executive director of enterprise applications at Washington University. “With this in place, we are able to quickly engage with the talent and everything is set as far as expectation, procedure and protocol for full-time placement should the apprenticeship go well. We are making it easier to invest in LaunchCode graduates up front, likely resulting in a full-time career with the university when it’s all said and done.”
Many experts agree that training — and then retaining — tech talent is a vital part of St. Louis’ emerging success story. As the Cortex Innovation Community expands, and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency breaks ground on its new St. Louis headquarters, the region will need a steady supply of tech talent to fill new jobs and opportunities. By growing and strengthening this pipeline, the region can help level the playing field for all employees, keep businesses thriving and further support the area’s aspirations to be a major tech hub.
“Tech talent is essential to growth, equity and inclusion in the St. Louis region,” said Henry S. Webber, executive vice chancellor and chief administrative officer at the university. “The tech sector is big, there’s enormous demand for jobs in the field here and across the country. The jobs have good starting salaries, and in many cases, they do not require a higher education degree. They are a superb way to generate economic mobility, and we’re proud to support LaunchCode and its graduates here at Washington University.”
Under the new agreement with LaunchCode, Washington University is poised to increase the number of apprentices coming in. Any units interested in the process can reach out directly to LaunchCode’s Martin for more information. Chesler said it was a great way to make a match for her team.
“Working with LaunchCode specifically has been a really good experience,” Chesler said. “They follow up, check in, it’s worked out really well for Jen to be able to come in with her skills, and use them here with our CRM implementation.”
And as Collins continues to grow and expand her Washington University experience, she’s looking forward to the next steps on her career path.
“It’s really nice to like coming to work,” Collins said. “I love the people I work with, I’m challenged every day, and each day I keep building my skills. There’s always something new.”