Children of color who live in Sacramento's poorest neighborhoods are the focus of a push to create a tech-ready workforce.
The push is being led by the National Society of Black Engineers' executive director Karl Reid, who was in Sacramento Tuesday to take part in a forum on academic preparation for jobs requiring science, technology, engineering and math skills.
"We've got big problems to solve worldwide—energy, food, water, cyber security, etc. and the country is not producing enough engineers," Reid says. "In fact, it's predicted that over the next 10 years, there's going to be a 1 million job gap in the STEM industry."
Tyrone Roderick Williams is director of the Sacramento Promise Zone. He says that it is a collaboration between the City of Sacramento and the Federal Government to provide funding and programs to turn around areas that have high unemployment, crime and dropout rates.
"On the longer, much broader view, we're talking about workforce development for the Sacramento region," Roderick Williams says.
The goal of the forum is to strategize how to create a STEM training pathway and Sacramento High School Principal Michelle Seijas says that mentoring programs are one way.
"A lot of our students are interested in engineering but may not have an engineer in their life that they are connected to that's giving them guidance and really mentoring," Seijas says. "And so it's very important to have gentlemen like Dr. Karl Reid to be a role model that they can look to who looks like them and shows that it's possible to get to where they want to go to."
Vince Pearson was also at Tuesday's forum. He runs an after-school mentoring program for young African-American men called ACE. Pearson says he started with just a few teens.
"Our program now has expanded to 15 young men," Pearson says. "And that's all been by word of mouth. Where either the young men like the program or their guardian likes the program of what we're trying to do is just trying to mentor these kids to stay in school, get their high school diploma and that's our main goal."
Forum organizers say that currently for students of color in poor neighborhoods, there are some disconnects on the pathway from elementary school and college to career. Their goal is to elevate STEM programs to reach a broader and diverse group of students.
Reid says about four percent of engineering degrees are held by African Americans and that's an improvement by a half-percent over the last decade.