By Nancy Dahlberg
Serial entrepreneur Jim McKelvey likes solving problems. And as the founder of LaunchCode, he has tackled a massive one: the nationwide shortage of computer programmers.
The U.S. Department of Labor projects that 1 million jobs in programming alone will go unfilled by 2020. McKelvey, who co-founded the mobile payment firm Square and now lives in South Florida, believes there are plenty of talented, driven people to fill those jobs, but they don’t have the traditional computer science degree, they don’t know a particular computer language or they lack relevant job experience that gets them in the door. LaunchCode’s model provides the key for them, he said, and they don’t have to take out big loans or do years of retraining. “It’s really possible,” said McKelvey in a recent interview. “Not to minimize the work, it’s a lot of work, but the way we have set it up it is extremely affordable.”
LaunchCode, founded in St. Louis in 2013, is a nonprofit organization that creates pathways to economic opportunity and upward mobility through apprenticeships and job placement in technology.
Pointing out that every company is a technology company these days, including banks, hospitals and cruise lines, McKelvey said LaunchCode’s offices partner with hundreds of top companies. Zumba, the global fitness and lifestyle brand based in the Miami area, has hired several web developers, for instance. Then the LaunchCode staff spends time learning exactly what tech skills the partnering companies need in order to make great matches and help job prospects get training when necessary.
“We’ve never had a company look at our offering and say we don’t want to participate. We’ve designed the system so there is no reason they would ever say no, they need the talent, these people are great, and we don’t twist their arms to make them hire,” McKelvey said. “It’s clearly to the companies’ benefit.”