This initiative started with an undeniable truth: millions of students of all ages lack the connectivity, technology, and skills required for success in today’s digital economy. Bridging this digital divide is a critical first step to include our neighbors in today’s tech-empowered workforce, so we can create pathways to possibilities that lead to better jobs and better futures for them and their families.
Fostering digital inclusion became Verizon’s passion, and they targeted four major U.S. cities to pilot their big idea.
Because of its size, population diversity, and economic inequality, Houston was an ideal city for the program. Because of our experience, success rate, and holistic, wrap-around approach to serving our neighbors’ lives, BakerRipley was the ideal partner.
Three words were the rallying cry: technology, education, and opportunity. Verizon and BakerRipley set the partnership in motion. We started with our time-tested first step … by hearing directly from the neighbors these programs would serve.
STEP 1: TECH-FORWARD MAKER SPACES
One of Verizon’s core goals for Community Forward was to establish community-centered, digitally-driven, technology-based fabrication labs. Armed with the insights given to us by our local communities, we immediately knew where and how to implement these maker spaces.
Over the next couple of years, these cutting-edge educational “fab labs” would be planned and constructed in two BakerRipley community centers: Gulfton Sharpstown and the East End.
Each facility is uniquely suited to the opportunities and goals of the community it serves.
Both fab labs leverage the experience of professionals, volunteers, and BakerRipley instructors to teach the hard skills necessary for students of all ages to earn jobs in fabrication, textile, and similar industries. These include hands-on training such as CAD programming, the engineering process, and the use of 3D printing solutions. Through the completion of these classes, students will be able to earn industry-recognized credentials, allowing them to more effectively step into job opportunities with growth potential.
As we planned out these programs, we had to ask ourselves tough questions, such as “what good is it to spend the time and money to train a student if they decide the job is a bad fit for them after the fact?” Our solution is the Tech Equity Bridge, a system that exposes our students – while they are at the beginning of their digital training journey — to the actual jobs they are pursing.
Additionally, we need students with not only the desire and hard skills necessary for success, but the soft skills that will ensure they remain effective, collaborative employees. Coaching that goes beyond digital training is available for students, both at the fab lab and online.
STEP 2: ONLINE DIGITAL TRAINING COURSES
We’re excited for the impact of the fab labs, but we couldn’t stop there. The nature of today’s online, modern world demands that we also train students to succeed in online environments.
Even as we prepared programs and courses to address this challenge, the sudden arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the demand.
Online education courses allow students to learn a wide array of digital skills. These courses start with training as basic as teaching immigrant families how to operate computers, smart phones, tablets, and the internet. From there, they begin learning software applications that develop job readiness. The most advanced classes create opportunities for successful students to earn credentials and apprenticeships that can lead directly to career readiness.
COVID-19 created additional challenges, but Verizon provided the necessary solutions. When lack of access to digital devices (necessary for online learning and employment) threatened to further disadvantage many of our students, Verizon provided devices and internet tools necessary for progress to continue.
These massive efforts are already bearing fruit across Houston!
Students like María and Aracely have already proven the online programs’ effectiveness, empowering aspiring Houston neighbors to take control of their own futures despite the worst COVID could throw at them.
BakerRipley is honored to be partnered with Verizon as we foster digital inclusion and equity throughout Houston, because we know this is a powerful stepping stone to promote community vitality for generations to come. And we’re proud of the resulting programs and opportunities that have already made huge impacts in the lives of neighborhoods throughout Houston.