Black History Month is an important time to appreciate Black accomplishments in this country, but as the month comes to an end, we are faced with a valuable opportunity to reflect and strategize on the equity gaps that continue to plague our community. In the wake of the pandemic, the Black-White wealth gap reached an all-time high with Black households owning $930,296 less than White households on average. There are several factors that contribute to this widening deficit, but the core of each contributor is the same: Black Americans struggle to amass wealth because they are disproportionately represented in unstable low-wage industry sectors such as the retail, hospitality, food services, education, and healthcare industries. Approximately 45% of all Black private-sector employees work in these largely frontline-service industries which experienced severe job loss in response to the 2020 pandemic lockdown. Although higher education has long been regarded as a vehicle of economic mobility for the Black community, a report from the National Center for Education Statistics proves that education alone does not achieve professional position and income parity for Black workers. The report revealed that Black Bachelor’s degree holders are 19.9% less likely to own a home than their White peers with the same level of education. Additionally, their student debt burden is $23,606 higher on average than their White peers. Thankfully, there are several affordable knowledge industry training opportunities here in Tulsa that will equip our community with the skills necessary to make major progress towards Black income parity in 2022.
Study Smarter, not Longer: Alternatives to Graduate Degrees
Knowledge industry sectors such as healthcare and social assistance professionals, scientific, and technical services, and the tech Industry are least susceptible to automation and have a median salary that is over twice the national salary median. These sectors are also expected to experience the highest job growth within the next decade. Since Black Americans are overrepresented in volatile low-wage jobs, transitioning mid-career and ushering early-career Black workers into knowledge industries is critical to narrowing the Black-White wealth gap.
In 2020, Tulsa Innovation Labs released the “Tulsa’s Tech Niche,” a comprehensive and data-driven strategy that identified five tech sectors with high-growth opportunities in Tulsa: virtual health, energy tech, advanced aerial mobility, cyber, and data analytics. These knowledge industry sectors offer some of the fastest growing and highest paying jobs locally and nationally. Here are a few jobs and affordable training opportunities available to native and relocated Tulsans within these sectors:
Average Salary: $80,017.60
Median Salary: $75,278.23
Typical Entry Level Education: Associate’s Degree
There are myriad pathways from clinical care into clinical tech. To help address the nursing shortage across the state, the Oklahoma Physician Manpower Training Commission has established the Nursing Student Assistance Program as well as Scholarship Programs to help attract diverse talent into the nursing field. Total incentives vary based on the program and degree level being sought, but folks looking to enter the field as a Licensed Practicing Nurse (LPN) or with an Associate’s Degree in nursing could be looking at $1,500 - $5,000 per year in incentives, plus additional support via scholarships and loan forgiveness. Certain health systems are also pulling out additional incentives to help recruit and retain nurses. As of this blog post, OU Health nurses can receive tuition reimbursement of $5,250 per year for any accredited nursing program to advance their level of practice.
In Tulsa, there are great programs at each degree level including Tulsa Tech’s Practical Nurse Program, Tulsa Community College’s Registered Nurse Program, and Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing at Oklahoma State University, University of Oklahoma-Tulsa, and University of Tulsa’s Oxley College of Health Sciences.
Advanced Aerial Mobility
Air Traffic Controller
Average Salary: $127,441.60
Median Salary: $130,416.00
Typical Entry Level Education: Associates Degree
While you may think of Air Traffic Controllers being just in airport control towers, understanding the practical and regulatory considerations for unmanned aerial systems is an important skill for emerging drone technologies. Tulsa Community College (TCC) offers an Associate’s Degree in Air Traffic Control for those looking to break into the aviation industry. With an average attendance cost of $6,078 (after aid), getting this associate degree from TCC yields its students a 20x return on their investment.
Average Salary: $121,222.40
Median Salary: $118,607.18
Typical Entry Level Education: Bachelor's degree
Drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) will be a big part of how the world will exchange goods. From getting critical medical supplies to rural patients to shopping deliveries, many industry giants such as Amazon, Google and Boeing are investing in UAVs. The industry is expected to have a compound annual growth rate of 12.2% over the next five years. Oklahoma State University’s Unmanned Systems Research Institute provides its students with state-of-the-art equipment and project partnerships with organizations like NASA to provide it’s students with the exposure to rise to the top of their field.
Average Salary: $114,358.40
Median Salary: $109,807
Typical Entry Level Education: Bachelor’s Degree
The average software engineer makes over three times the national median annual wage, but less that 5% of web developers are Black. This presents a massive opportunity for Black workers to enter a lucrative and rapidly growing industry. Holberton School’s Tulsa campus income-share agreement (ISA), ISA reduction incentive, and need-based living assistance program make becoming a software engineer more accessible than anywhere else in the country. The ISA means that students pay no upfront cost and only pay a percentage of their income once they attain a software engineering role that pays more than $40,000 a year. And thanks to philanthropies like The George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF) and Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation (CLSFF) low-income students can qualify for a zero-interest monthly living stipend of $1,500. Additionally, if students stay and work in Tulsa for 3.5 years after the program, their ISA drops from 17% to 10% and their living assistance loans are forgiven.
User Interface (UI) Designers:
Average Salary: $80,080.00
Median Salary: $ 72,593.21
Typical Entry Level Education: Associate’s Degree
Langston University, Tulsa's HBCU, is a Grow with Google Partner. This means that Langston students get free access to the Google Career Certificate programs. This self-paced, online training program can prepare you for careers in the high-growth fields of UI Design as well as project management, data analytics, and IT support.
Average Salary: $107,577.60
Median Salary: $103,584.00
Typical Entry Level Education: Bachelor's Degree
As the numbers of cyber-attacks continue to rise, so does the demand for cyber security analysts. CompTIA’s “Cyberstates” report projects that cybersecurity jobs will grow by 31% over the next decade, making it the fastest growing tech occupation. To become a cybersecurity analyst, you typically need to earn a bachelor's degree in cybersecurity, information technology, computer science, or a related field. University of Tulsa’s Cybersecurity program is ranked top 25 in the country. With a job as a cybersecurity analyst, you can earn six-figure salary without taking on the debt that comes with a graduate degree
Data Analyst/Database Administrator
Average Salary: $100,921.60
Median Salary: $98,561.42
Typical Entry Level Education: Bachelor’s Degree
Data analytics is another rapidly growing tech field. While a bachelor’s degree is the typical educational background for data analysts, many companies are accepting bootcamp and data science certificate holders. Here in Tulsa, Oklahoma State University’s Spears School of Business provides three data science certificates in Health Analytics, Business Analytics and Data Science, and Marketing Analytics. These certificates are perfect for bachelor degree holders who wish to pivot into the tech-industry without the price tag of a master’s degree.
Building Your Network
“Education is extremely important, but why are you getting the education? Black students need to get the experience. Our community needs to prioritize internships. We’ve got to prioritize exposure and that's something I think that is missing,” shared Leonelle Thompson, director of Career and Professional Development at Langston University. Sometimes the training alone is not enough to find and land your ideal opportunity. Good news: there are opportunities to engage with Tulsa’s technology community all across the city to build professional connections, get internship opportunities, and build friendships that go beyond LinkedIn. Here are just a handful in Tulsa:
Tulsa’s Young Professionals (TYPROS) features special-interest action committees (they call them Crews), community events, and great networking opportunities. Getting to know emerging leaders from across the city is a great way to build your network.
36 is Tulsa’s hub for technology start-up entrepreneurs and funders. They host events every week where entrepreneurs and experts share their knowledge to help attendees sharpen their skills. These events are great places to get to know individuals and companies whose interests align with yours.
Lightship Capital invests in remarkable businesses led by FOC (Founders of Color), LBGTQ+, Women & Innovators with Disabilities. We recommend checking out their Workflow Wednesdays, usually hosted at 36 Degrees North, where you can meet local entrepreneurs, side hustlers, technologists and the Lightship team to discuss entrepreneurship, tech roles at local startups, and the ins and outs of business and technology.
If you are more actively on the hunt for your next opportunity, join a tech-talent marketplace. Some are less tech focused (LinkedIn) but others offer more curated experiences, like Tulsa’s own Bootup. Since their launch in July of 2021, Bootup has helped over 465 individuals get their first jobs in tech for total annual salaries of over $32 million. Bootup helps anyone, regardless of their educational background, to break into tech by matching users to tech training programs and jobs completely free of charge. Join the BootUp community to find your next high-wage tech role at companies like Dell, JP Morgan, Home Depot and others that are expanding their tech teams.
Have the Audacity
As a black woman, one of the most valuable pieces of advice I have received is: “Have the Audacity.” Have the audacity to apply for the job even if you don’t meet 100% of the qualifications. A study commissioned by Robert Half, one of the largest staffing firms in the nation, found that 62 percent of employees have been offered a job when they didn't match the exact qualifications. Have the courage to cold email or LinkedIn message people at organizations you are interested in working for because 70% of all jobs are not published publicly on jobs sites, and as much as 80% of jobs are filled through personal and professional connections. Director Thompson encourages students and young Black professionals to “change the way we talk about careers…talk about it in the same vein we talk about self-exploration, talk about the different avenues you can take to be successful, and that's different for everyone.” Do not be afraid to send out and receive feedback on your resume from people in your network and do not shy away from exploring unfamiliar industries and positions. Too many of us fall victim to imposter syndrome and not believing we are good enough, when all that separates us from our dream job is having the audacity to reach out, explore and realize your ambitions.
 Weller, C., & Roberts, L. (2021, March 19). Eliminating the Black-White Wealth Gap Is a Generational Challenge. Retrieved January 2022, from The Center for American Progress: https://www.americanprogress.org/article/eliminating-black-white-wealth-gap-generational-challenge/
 Hancock, B., Williams, M., Manyika, J., Yee, L., & Wong, J. (2021, February 21). Race in the Workplace. Retrieved from McKinsey & Company: https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/diversity-and-inclusion/race-in-the-workplace-the-black-experience-in-the-us-private-sector#
 Cominole, M., Thomsen, E., Henderson, M., Velez, E.D., and Cooney, J. (2021). Baccalaureate and Beyond (B&B:08/18): First Look at the 2018 Employment and Educational Experiences of 2007–08 College Graduates (NCES 2021-241). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved 2022 from https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2021241.
 CompTIA. (2021, March). Cyberstates 2021. Retrieved January 2022, from Cyberstates.org: https://www.cyberstates.org/pdf/CompTIA_Cyberstates_2021.pdf