Innovative Career Pathways Help Former Shortridge Student Advance Her Career In Tech
Many career pathways are designed to fit a particular series of steps; graduate high school, achieve a post-secondary degree, obtain real-world experience outside of the classroom, and then enter the workforce, but only after achieving the required qualifications. These pathways are linearly formulated, forging a standard of eligibility that deems who can secure sustainable careers and who is confined to non-promising jobs.
For countless workers, however, the tracts to career success are riddled with obstacles that span beyond a conventional scope; the sequential progressions of traditional career pathways are not always applicable routes for many people to take. This notion is, simply, not a “one size fits all” solution for our workforce.
As a part of Mayor Joe Hogsett’s commitment to renew Indianapolis’ workforce development efforts in June of 2016, EmployIndy has dedicated efforts to finding and establishing a variety of innovative career pathways within Marion County. This places a priority on reducing the barriers that prevent individuals from progressing through the A job, Better job, Career (ABC) continuum.
A job is any form of employment that provides a source of income to secure basic needs. A better job provides sustainable compensation and opportunities for further education and industry experience. A career provides ongoing professional advancement and economic security. The goal is for every Marion County resident to have the opportunity to develop a career by first creating access to any job and then moving to a better job that prepares individuals for real-world success.
This continuum requires multiple points of intervention from community-based organizations, employers, and schools, alike. From wrap-around services to professional mentorship to skills enhancement, the entire workforce ecosystem plays a role in fostering an individual’s progression. This allows service providers to meet workers where they are at, and curate resources and opportunities tailored to their individual circumstances.
EmployIndy was able to both encourage the progression through and witness the intricacies of the ABC continuum through the career trajectory of Essence Gray. Gray grew up in Pike Township and attended many different schools in the area throughout her teenage years. She experienced homelessness during this time and was in and out of foster care before she eventually settled in Washington Township.
While attending Shortridge Highschool, Gray joined “Life After Shortridge,” a program that helped to elevate young people and open their eyes to the world of opportunities that exists outside the immediate community. Through this experience, Gray set herself apart through her tenacious insight and innovative ideas, winning a writing contest that earned her an internship with Ice Miller LLP, a full-service law firm in downtown Indianapolis.
After completing the internship experience, Gray enrolled at Vincennes University, studying Business Administration and Audio Production. At the time, she wanted to become a lawyer and generate opportunities for underserved youth to advance their creative potentials, much like her own experience at Shortridge.
In November of 2018, Gray gave birth to her son after completing her first year of college. She did not continue on with her degree after becoming a mother and began working at a restaurant to provide for her child. Near the end of 2019, Gray was 23 years old and navigating many personal tribulations in addition to parenting a toddler. As COVID-19 began ransacking the world the following Spring, she found herself at a major turning point.
“One day I just realized that I didn’t want to do this,” recalled Gray. “I am not meant to just sit around and wash dishes for the rest of my life. I deserve more, and I am capable of more.”
Shortly thereafter, in April of 2020, Gray learned of the YES Indy program from Hawthorne Community Center. She enrolled immediately and completed the PepUp Tech program, all while healing from her own traumas and taking care of her son. Gray also began studying for her SalesForce Certification, and it was during this time that she was offered an internship with EmployIndy.
“I saw that the future was focused on technology, and I was hungry for the tech work that I knew I could change the world with,” said Gray.
Gray began working with EmployIndy’s Strategy and Research team at the end of 2020, and her role included a variety of data analyses, from report personalization to data mechanization and beyond. She also played a crucial role in transitioning and implementing EmployIndy’s Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, a critical component of EmployIndy’s internal re-organization that was occurring at this time.
“Having Essence as a team member at EmployIndy allowed us to really live out our ethos and experience, as employers, the value that young, diverse talent brings to organizations,” said Marie Mackintosh, Chief Strategy Officer at EmployIndy. “It was a wonderful experience to help Essence navigate the ABC continuum and advance her career.”
After her time at EmployIndy, Gray began an internship with the Martindale-Brightwood Community Development Corporation (MBCDC) as an Executive Assistant in the Summer of 2021. This internship helped her to grow as a mother and as a professional, providing her with invaluable experience within the world of work. The connections she made continue to help her advance her career.
“Growing up, my career path was set in stone,” said Gray. “But then life happened and it became a struggle to find what I truly wanted to do versus what other people were telling me to do and what opportunities were actually feasible.”
On September 1st, 2021, Gray started a full-time apprenticeship as an Indianapolis Public Ally. Gray serves as an Ally with the American Red Cross, working directly with the Martindale-Brightwood community in outreach and technological innovation throughout the next ten months.
“It means something to me to have my feet on the ground and make change happen. I remember being that young person who just wanted someone to see me, to help me, and to believe in me,” said Gray. “Now, I get to be that person for others and continue to help and heal my community.”
- To learn more about EmployIndy’s focus on establishing a variety of innovative career pathways within Marion County, view our 2017-2022 Strategic Plan here.