When a proposed bill that would have allocated $1.5 billion to summer and year-round jobs for low-income and underprivileged youths failed in Congress earlier this year, President Obama urged the private sector to create around 250,000 positions for students and youths by this summer.
Thirty-five companies pledged commitment to the initiative on Jan. 5, when President Obama announced the White House's Summer Jobs+ program, and more companies are following suit — including many in the technology industry.
Tech companies GroupMe, Gilt Groupe, Onswipe and others have joined forces with rock musician Jon Bon Jovi and the White House to create SummerQAmp, an initiative to provide an outlet into the booming world of tech jobs for 16- to 24-year-olds, a group whose employment level has dropped by almost 15 percent in the last decade, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Led by former White House Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, GroupMe co-founder Steve Martocci, Gilt Groupe's Quality Engineering Vice President Kevin Haggard and Onswipe CEO Jason Baptiste, SummerQAmp seeks to introduce low-income and underprivileged youths to the technology sector through entry-level quality-assurance and quality-engineering jobs.
"[Quality assurance] is the absolute right starting point for every young person to feel connected to this vibrant community," Chopra said during a conference call.
Unlike many tech jobs, quality assurance, or QA, positions often do not require an advanced skill set or a college degree in computer programming. "For many, to see themselves in this career path, there's a desire to go through formal learning," he said. "But for many young people, that's perceived as a hurdle — an educational burden gone too far."
QA professionals work to ensure that websites, mobile applications and other technologies offer a seamless user experience. The tech professionals involved in SummerQAmp believe that a smaller learning curve may pique the interest of young people unaware of opportunities in the technology industry.
"Our objective is to try to aim to find people who might be interested in this, and [who] aren't even really aware that software could be for them," Martocci said.
SummerQAmp also seeks to emphasize the importance of learning technology skills, partnering with CK-12, a nonprofit learning portal, to offer education resources and technology tutorials for young people and others interested in the tech world.
"I'd love to see this make it to campuses; that it is something that's really taught in schools," Haggard said. "I think it's still very early, but this is a great start to educate companies and universities about what quality assurance is, and how important it is for companies."
The program can give low-income and underprivileged youths the opportunity to work with technologies that they use every day, such as cellphones and tablets. The tech leaders behind the initiative also hope that young people's high exposure to these technologies will spur curiosity in quality assurance and other technology fields.
"Kids are going to want to be part of this because they're going to be able to play with cool new devices," Haggard said. "They're going to see it as learning and work, but they're also going to have a lot of fun."
Martocci expects SummerQAmp to offer around 1,000 internships and job opportunities by this summer. Students and youths will soon be able to find QA positions and other jobs on the U.S. Department of Labor's SummerJobs+ website later this year.
Joshua Weaver is The Root's editorial assistant.