Express Scripts needed to hire about two dozen Pega developers in St. Louis, but programmers who are proficient in that platform are in short supply. Fortunately, St. Louis is also the headquarters of LaunchCode, an innovative nonprofit that trains people for technology careers and places them in jobs, all at no cost to the students.
"We had a growing need for a technical skill — Pega — that did not exist in our company," said Valerie Farrell, Director, Software Engineering/Transformation. "We went to LaunchCode and said we needed Pega developers."
LaunchCode was eager to develop a joint program with Express Scripts. "You are far and away our no. 1 partner right now. We've placed close to 60 people at Express Scripts this year," said Brian Feldman, LaunchCode Company Relations Manager. "Every single one of them told us what an unbelievable company Express Scripts is. It's a place they feel incredibly comfortable. We know that we're putting great talent with a company where they're being taken care of and mentored."
The rapidly growing organization offered 17 classes to more than 2,500 students last year. In all, they've educated more than 4,000 students since LaunchCode's inception in 2013 and launched more than 850 tech careers. About a third of its funding comes from company partners when LaunchCode places an apprentice, a third comes from government grants, and a third comes from individual donors and grantors.
We looked for people who could work well with our corporate partners, who could be agile
When Express Scripts reached out, LaunchCode identified 40 of the best Java programmers who had recently graduated from a coding class. Express Scripts evaluated the 40 and selected 24 for Pega training.
"We looked for people who could work well with our corporate partners, who could be agile," Valerie said.
"It's been a really great opportunity to partner to close a gap where we were struggling to find good talent in St. Louis," — Jason Weems, ESI Vice President, IT
LaunchCode pulled in Pegasystems Inc., which sent instructors to St. Louis for the eight-day training session. At the same time, LaunchCode gave the students strategies to help them in the corporate world, providing insights on topics such as email best practices, phone conferences and even how to work on two monitors instead of a laptop screen.
"It's been a really great opportunity to partner to close a gap where we were struggling to find good talent in St. Louis," said Jason Weems, Vice President, IT. "These guys took the bull by the horn and made it happen. I think this is a win-win for both of us."
Twenty-three students completed the Pega course, and Express Scripts hired them as paid apprentices. Each was paired with a programming partner to help them navigate their day-to-day work life and a buddy to answer basic questions, such as how to find the company gym.
All but two were offered full-time jobs when their 90-day apprenticeships ended in July. LaunchCode steps in when an apprentice doesn't move on to a full-time job, helping that person find a spot at another company.
"We were looking at how they fit culturally because we are trying to change the culture here," Valerie said. Technical expertise was a secondary consideration. "You don't write code successfully in 90 days," she said. "It takes longer. We understand that."
The success of the St. Louis program led LaunchCode and Express Scripts to expand their partnership to New Jersey, where 10 people recently completed Pega training and 17 learned to use COBOL. All 27 began their 90-day paid apprenticeships on August 7 at the Franklin Lakes office.
"That's not traditionally a city of operations for us, but we wanted to make it work," Brian said. "We'll follow Express Scripts wherever they need us to go."
This article was originally published in Express Script's internal Newsletter.