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VP Biden visits LaunchCode to discuss tech jobs

ST. LOUIS – Vice-President Joe Biden traveled to St. Louis to cohost a roundtable discussion with local business leaders to discuss technology employment and re-education efforts.

At LaunchCode headquarters near the Delmar Loop, the nonprofit has worked on pairing companies with computer programmers while also training coding to individuals at no cost. Last May, President Barack Obama praised LaunchCode for the work it was doing to place tech workers in apprenticeship programs across the country, and the vice president reiterated those compliments Friday.

Biden cited the increased need for jobs in the technology sector while touting nationally low unemployment numbers, 15 million created jobs and modest wage growth in the last few months. He added that LaunchCode was an example of fulfilling one of two essential competitive needs, namely the need for have “the best educated workforce in the world.”

“What you guys are doing here is translating the need into reality,” Biden said, stressing the other need was first-class infrastructure. He said the United States currently ranks 27th in the world and that it would take $2 trillion to update the nation’s infrastructure.

The hour-long morning meeting involved brief opening speech by the vice-president then a discussion regulated by Jim McKelvey, one of the cofounders of LaunchCode. McKelvey and Biden interacted with different business leaders and people who had taken part in LaunchCode’s coding programs.

Rob Reeg, the president of Mastercard Operations and Technology, stressed that he appreciated the program because it brought diversity to the workforce, especially in information technologies. Of the 500-plus people that LaunchCode has placed in businesses, Mastercard has taken in 21 of them. Reeg pointed out that only oneof those 21 had left in the last three years.

Sarah Mayer, the director of IT for Boeing in St. Louis, said that the program has made her and the business refocus their hiring standards to not necessarily just look for a degree, to to look for people with the proper attitude, energy and enthusiasm for coding. She said she had to move away from “the standard recruiting model.” Neal Sample, the CIO of Express Scripts, added that they now also consider hiring for “will ahead of skill.”

McKelvey said that the no-risk position for businesses made it attractive for them to take in people at no cost to the company.

More than 300 companies in St. Louis now partner with LaunchCode, and the nonprofit itself has expanded to new hubs in Kansas City, Missouri; Miami and Providence, Rhode Island.

Several users of the LaunchCode program also spoke. Ricardo Antonetti started working for Boeing through LaunchCode’s Miami location. He now has a full-time job with the aerospace company. Kimberly Vaughan went through the CoderGirl program (a special coding program taught and taken by women) as a single mother to two daughters, and she now works IT for the Federal Reserve.

“It has truly changed my life,” she said.

Roughly 90 percent of those in the LaunchCode apprenticeship programs get full-time jobs at an average salary of $50,000.

Biden praised those individuals for going back to school, noting that it can be “intimidating” for people to learn new skills, especially if they already have jobs. The vice president closed the morning with a message stressing that the new role of technology foreshadowed larger changes in the world as it is. He openly pondered whether automation could take jobs away and emphasized that the middle class was not a bracket between two numbers, but an ability to live comfortably and well.

He quoted William Butler Yeats’ poem “Easter, 1916.”

“All is changed, changed utterly, a terrible beauty is born.” he said. “The world is fundamentally different than it was 15 years ago.”