NATIONAL CITY – In just four years, National City-based nonprofit Black Tech Link has been helping San Diego students, companies, community partners and other collaborators connect and make strides en route to closing the tech talent gap for Black professionals.
Founded by Elizabeth Cotton in 2020 to close the workforce gap of Black populations during the COVID-19 pandemic, Black Tech Link is evolving and has amplified its work, providing more workforce solutions, consultancy, resources, technical training, business platforms and networking activities as it focuses on the overall economic development of Black communities.
The group offers opportunities for learning and growth. Its 6- to 8-week youth stem program for kids ages 11-17 includes an introduction to Geographical Information Systems; web development and coding with HTML and CSS; and robotics, Artificial Intelligence the Internet of Things, Python and Linux. It also has a summer robotics program.
Events throughout the year include symposiums like “Where Business, Law & Tech Intersect” in partnership with Earl B. Gilliam Bar Foundation and sponsors Union Bank, Qualcomm, Cal Western and USD schools of Law, San Diego Gas & Electric and Wilson Sonsini Foundation.
Cotton said this year Black Tech Link Is launching an intermediate program for returning students who have been reached but want more.
Some of the organization’s programming will be expanding from its home site at the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation in Southeast San Diego to another location in North County (yet to be named) to be more convenient for those not living in the city of San Diego.
According to the McKinsey Institute for Black Economic Mobility, a research institute and think tank advancing racial equity and inclusive growth, Black professionals continue to be underrepresented in tech jobs in the United States.
McKinsey in 2023 reported that Black professionals make up 12% of the U.S. workforce but only 8% of employees in tech jobs. That percentage is even smaller further up the corporate ladder – only 3% of C-Suite technology executives are Black, according to the institute’s analysis of Fortune 500 executives.
The future looks just as challenging. McKinsey reports that across all industries, technology jobs — data science, engineering, cybersecurity and software development — are expected to grow 14% by 2032, and Black tech talent in those roles is expected to grow only 8% over the same period.
Closing the gap will take continued emphasis on education, better recruiting methods and retention initiatives, with private, public and social sector leaders leading the way, McKinsey’s report says.
Entrenched in Community Efforts
Black Tech Link is one of the leaders entrenched in coordinated efforts to accelerate Black economic development, specifically in Science Technology Engineering and Math initiatives.
Through previous endeavors in workforce development for a national organization, Cotton said she’s been able to build a lot of relationships with corporate and community partners, which has been crucial for Black Tech Link’s growth.
“Our pillars are focusing on workforce development in the tech sector and the business sector and also around training in hopes of helping people find career pathways and high-paying jobs,” Cotton said.
From giving out robotics kits to young students to guiding job seekers with resume and interview preparedness, Black Tech Link focuses on putting Black professionals at the front of the line for a future in STEM.
Black Tech Link has developed a methodology and framework guiding its core functions and the audience its serves, including its set of Pipeline Initiative Programs including introducing Black and other underrepresented students to coding, robotics, the Internet of Things and more.
Black Tech Link supports career and business development training for high school students to mid-career professionals.
Becton Dickinson and Company Knowledge Management Project Manager Erik O’Riley is a board member with Black Tech Link and has been involved with the organization since its beginnings. O’Riley said one of the group’s efforts he aligns best with is Black Tech Link’s one-day summer Health and STEM fest held annually at the Educational Cultural Complex Theater on Ocean View Boulevard.
The event brings more than 60 community organizations, companies and small businesses together for a resource fair and career expo, self-development workshops, health screenings and vaccinations, an all-day fitness clinic and youth STEM activities.
“For an entire day we set up there, reaching out to the community,” O’Riley said. “We also try to help with recruiting efforts, getting out in the community so they know that we exist, and helping make meaningful connections at the grassroots level.”
Drawn to STEM as a kid growing up in Missouri, he said STEM changed his life for the positive, and paved the way to a secure and well-paying job. He said he wants to make sure that groups like Black Tech Link are supported by the community and community partners.
“STEM is about critical thinking and that is never going away, even as we go into AI and things like that,” O’Riley said. “There is always someone needed to train and work on the technology, even as systems and processes might change. We’re making sure we have smart, critical thinking kids. That’s really the biggest thing we are trying to do.”
Cotton said she believes that there are black technologists everywhere, but that companies seeking employees need to do their due diligence and reach out to (Black) communities and build trust “in order to attract those students and or attract those workers and retain those workers.”
She said a big part of her vision and mission for Black Tech Link is to retain Black talent in San Diego.
“I’ve been told like a lot of people feel like it’s very difficult to have to build their career in San Diego,” Cotton said. “We don’t want to lose people to other markets you know where there’s a better cost of living, where the people feel there’s more sense of community and where they feel like they’re able to connect. So Black Tech Link is trying to provide that connection.”
Black Tech Link
FOUNDER & EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: Elizabeth Cotton
HEADQUARTERS: National City
BUSINESS: Workforce development nonprofit
REVENUE: $98,425 (2022)
SOCIAL IMPACT: Nonprofit provides resource education and employment resources for black communities to build careers and education in the tech sector
NOTABLE: Founder Elizabeth Cotton helped bring the Space Shuttle Endeavor to the California Science Center in 2010.