This piece was originally published on Hosting Advice.
TL; DR: Kenzie Academy, an online tech school, is on a mission to provide access to in-demand skills training, experiential learning, mentorship, and career services to diverse individuals who often feel overlooked or like an education is out of reach for them. Kenzie takes a forward-thinking approach and creates a family-like environment to empower learners to launch careers in tech. Future focused and centered on the learner, Kenzie is committed to delivering life-changing learning experiences that result in rewarding, in-demand jobs.
Let’s take a look at labor in America, and how it has historically been defined by the shade of one’s collar.
White-collar employees of the shirt-and-tie sect — such as advertising professionals, architects, stockbrokers, and lawyers — are typically typecast as working in office jobs that require a college degree.
Those serving in industries like agriculture, food service, manufacturing, and construction are frequently referred to as blue-collar, a term that emerged in the 1920s to reflect the durable denim or chambray fabrics worn by manual laborers.
But today, attire-based employee stereotypes are making way for a fresh group of employees hailed for their ability to fill the fast-growing jobs of the future.
They’re known as new-collar employees — programmers, cloud computing technicians, and cybersecurity analysts, among other IT roles — and they’re now developing their skills in new ways.
At forward-thinking institutions like Kenzie, learners graduate with a job-ready education within a much shorter time frame, compared to the traditional university.
“The way we work is changing,” said Steven Miller, former Vice President of Marketing at Kenzie. “Our goal is to equip learners with the skills they need to succeed in the digital economy. We want to get to the point where the U.S. is participating in the tech revolution to the same extent that we participated in the industrial revolution.”
Learners can enroll in these three programs: UX Design (9 months), Full-Stack Web Development (9 months), or Software Engineering (12 months). Kenzie teams serve as lifelong advocates who provide support every step of the way with getting enrolled, securing funding, understanding concepts, completing projects, preparing for the job search, growing as an individual, and so much more.
1. Working to Empower, Educate, and Upskill Future Tech Professionals
Chok Ooi, founder of Kenzie Academy and senior partner of the software innovation company AgilityIO, came up with the idea for Kenzie in 2016 after the U.S. presidential election that year.
“Our founder, Chok Ooi, had created AgilityIO here in New York, successfully exited the company and was essentially enjoying his life on the beach,” Steven said. “After the elections, he decided that it wasn’t a good time to sit on the sidelines, so he created Kenzie with the mission of empowering, educating, and upskilling underserved populations.”
The institution opened in 2017, focusing on those without access to traditional coding bootcamps, colleges, and universities.
“We want to help people who have been left behind; people who are usually on the lower end of the economic equality spectrum and have experienced hardship,” Steven said. “Our diverse student population includes people with manufacturing backgrounds, students that only have a GED, military veterans, and the formerly incarcerated.”
Steven told us he joined the staff at Kenzie because his experience growing up in a small Midwestern manufacturing hub mirrors that of many learners.
“I’ve watched these changes decimate job opportunities, affecting people I know and love,” he said. “As we see now, with COVID-19 and the downturn in the economy, a lot of traditional industries are getting hit hard, whereas tech companies are still growing and hiring. That’s why Kenzie is working to provide opportunities in tech.”
2. A Forward-Thinking Approach to Tuition and Instruction
Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, known for his background in STEM, has sat on the board of advisors at Kenzie. He once joined an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session hosted by Chok Ooi on the future of America and the perseverance of the tech industry.
“Chok and I have been friends for years; he believed in me before anyone else did,” he said during the session. “I’m trying to help Kenzie Academy in any way I can because I’m very passionate about the work they are doing.”
Steven told us that Andrew Yang provided some forward-thinking direction in the conceptualization of Kenzie. The institution is progressive in terms of its pedagogical approach, tuition structure, and financial options, including Federal Student Aid, to help make education affordable.
Due to an innovative learning model, learners at Kenzie graduate equipped with the experience they need to thrive in the real world. Steven told us there’s not a lot of hand-holding involved.
“Students are given the coaching and tools to succeed, but it is also on them to solve problems,” he said. “We teach them how to learn, how to think outside the box from the very beginning.”
3. Family-Like Support from Admission to Employment
Steven said Kenzie graduates also gain a lifelong bond with the organization’s staff and Academic Team. Upon acceptance, they’re welcomed into what the school calls the Kenzie Family. Former learners often comment on the life-changing nature of the overall experience.
“It’s almost Hallmark-ish,” he said. “Starting with admissions, our staff doesn’t go through a sales routine or try to pitch things. It’s more of a therapy session, assessing what’s going on in that student’s life and whether it’s the right time to enroll. We will say no if we realize it’s too much of a time commitment or there is too much stress they are going through.”
Kenzie learners also graduate with a full portfolio of work showcasing the problems they’ve solved and skills they have acquired. Academic and career support helps learners craft the perfect portfolio and guides them on how to properly present their portfolio as an interviewing tool.
“We have a lot of competitors out there that provide students with enough base knowledge to get going, but what sets our students apart is that portfolio — it’s a huge success booster,” Steven said. “Our instruction is very hands-on and true to form. We get students ready to hit the ground running.”
After graduation, learners continue to be a part of the Kenzie Fam. Graduates are encouraged to pay it forward after they become alumni by mentoring current learners and offering prospective learners resources that could help them.
“I’ve worked for a lot of tech startups and organizations, but this is the first one where, from top to bottom, it really feels like a family,” Steven said.
4. Continually Preparing for What’s Next
Steven said Kenzie is always looking ahead and preparing for changes as the tech industry evolves at a rapid pace.
“Kenzie is always preparing for what’s next instead of training for the now,” he said. “Chok has always been a proponent of planning for the opportunities that our future reality will present.”