WOS & GE: Building Diversity in Tech

The call for tech giants in Silicon Valley to hire more women and individuals from ethnically diverse groups has been a recurring headline. Major companies like Uber, Apple, and Twitter have drawn criticism for their stagnant diversity numbers. However, the need for diversity in the realm of tech spans beyond issues related to gender and race. As the skills gap in the field continues to widen—and tech workers are in high demand—it’s essential for companies to consider job candidates from non-traditional talent pools; something that Workforce Opportunity Services (WOS) has illustrated through its TAP program.

Upon graduating high school, James Thiede, 23, from Farmington Hills, Michigan, encountered financial struggles that held him back from furthering his education. He took on a string of dead-end jobs in the fast-food industry. “I’ve always had an issue finding a job that is both rewarding and gives you a sense of fulfillment,” said Thiede. “It’s really hard to find something when you don’t really have an education.”

23 miles away, in Detroit, 23-year-old Reva Williams faced a similar obstacle. She was working as a dog groomer, a job that she had done on and off since she was 17. “I wanted to do something different. I wasn’t happy with what I was doing and I didn’t think that I could do it for the rest of my life,” said Williams. After searching for career opportunities, both Thiede and Williams came across an advertisement for WOS and decided to apply.

Their paths crossed when they were selected to work as consultants at General Electric’s Van Buren office. After expressing their interest in app development, they were placed on a team that was tasked with developing an app for the company through the ThingWorx platform. The app that they are working on will collect data from sensors on GE’s industrial machines; measuring the heat of the machine and whether certain parts need to be replaced. It will include various controls that will ultimately help make a factory more efficient.

During the first nine months of the program, both Thiede and Williams took courses at the University of Michigan-Dearborn where they learned about Java, coding, and other technology related to programming. Additionally, they took communications courses and are being mentored to develop the interpersonal skills needed to successfully transition into the corporate realm. Stepping into the world of tech was far from easy for both Thiede and Williams; especially working with the ThingWorx platform. Working on a newer platform meant the team largely had to figure things out through trial and error.

The lessons learned went far beyond the classroom. Having a hands-on experience at GE and working alongside individuals from different backgrounds had a huge impact on both of them. “Some of us have no technical education and some people are changing their occupation. Someone had a nursing degree and another person was doing social work,” said Thiede. “There is a diversity of experience on our team. It’s been interesting to see how well we work together although we are from different walks of life.”

Jamila Weathers, Client Service Manager, WOS, has been a constant source of encouragement and support for Thiede, Williams, and the rest of the WOS consultants working at GE. She’s helped them identify and hone their strengths and pushed them to work on their weaknesses. “It's been a rewarding experience watching consultants in the Workforce Opportunity Services-General Electric Java Development Training Program blossom into their full potential,” said Weathers. “These individuals came from different walks of life with diverse backgrounds and experiences, however along the way they have become a more cohesive and supportive group who helped each other achieve their goals.”

Upon completion of the training program, Thiede, Williams and the seventeen other individuals in their class will be honored at a graduation ceremony at the University of Michigan-Dearborn in August.

For Thiede, who wants to continue to do app development, a hands-on experience at GE opened his perspective about how tech can impact the world. “It’s interesting to see how new technology is changing lives for the better, whether it’s an app that makes organizational goals easier to reach or technology that helps individuals that are disabled,” he said.  “One thing that I’ve noticed since starting this journey with WOS and GE is that the capability to do that is in the hands of a software developer. Anyone could do it. You just have to have an idea and work hard. If you can think of a technology that will make someone’s life better in a digital form then you are capable creating it.”

Editor’s note: The WOS consultants who have worked on the ThingWorx platform at GE have been assigned to another team within the company.