While growing up in Minneapolis, pop icon Prince was like Willy Wonka. And Paisley Park, Prince’s private estate, was his Chocolate Factory, said Corey Tollefson. Tollefson, born and raised in Minneapolis, is now an executive of cloud-based tech company Infor. Tollefson received his golden ticket of sorts when he met Prince’s brother.
“It was really serendipitous,” said Tollefson who surprisingly met Prince’s brother one day and told him how much of a Prince fan he was. “He said ‘I’m going to make your life.’”
Soon enough, Tollefson was on a private events list for some of Prince’s most intimate shows and events. Every weekend from ages 17 to 21, Tollefson said he would go to Paisley Park and listen to Prince play music and vibe with friends.
As Tollefson slowly became engulfed in Prince’s private life, he learned about Prince’s principles surrounding music ownership, which continue to shape Tollefson’s work today.
“There were a lot of lessons learned that transferred over to my career in software,” Tollefson said.
After Prince’s death, Tollefson met CNN commentator and co-founder of #YesWeCode Van Jones, another close associate of Prince. Prince and Van Jones created #YesWeCode in response to the death of Trayvon Martin.
In an effort to take control of the narrative, the two created the initiative to introduce more students of color to the tech industry, #YesWeCode National Director Jonathan Meeks said.
Jones explained to Tollefson that #YesWeCode was Prince’s last publicly announced charity initiative before passing. Given Tollefson’s background in tech and love for Prince, he quickly brought the idea of collaborating with #YesWeCode to Infor’s CEO Charles Phillips.
“Charles had him come and talk to me and I was getting excited as I was learning more,” said Martine Cadet Founder and Vice President of Infor’s Educational Alliance Program. “We just realized we had such a shared vision.”
After a number of meetings, the partnership between #YesWeCode and Infor’s Educational Alliance Program (EAP) produced GenOne.
The GenOne program offers young adults intense training that provides “in-demand industry skills development and placement opportunities to top talent in underrepresented communities of color,” according to a statement.
The first cohort of 20 students to graduate from the program nearly all landed full-time positions at Infor.
“Doing a program like this that opens up the door so they can soar on their own merits,” Cadet said. “We’re really excited about the potential to make a true and impactful difference that’s lasting.”
Founded in September 2014, Infor’s EAP program specializes in giving students from various backgrounds industry training to prepare them for entering the tech industry. Before combining efforts with #YesWeCode to create GenOne, EAP trained 4,000 students globally, according to Cadet.
GenOne’s goal is simple: “How do we democratize access to careers and jobs that will possibly change the trajectory to someone’s future,” Cadet said.
Recent graduate Eddie Harmon said that GenOne allowed for his voice to be heard.
“It has resolidified my motivation and resolve to personally make a difference by bringing awareness to critical issues in the tech sphere as well as access to those who are often overlooked and excluded through both intentional and unconscious bias,” said Harmon, who is a Chicago native and a Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University alum.
Since completing nearly 230 hours of role-based training in GenOne’s pilot class, Harmon is now the EAP Programs Manager at Infor.
“One of our key components in our cohort is that the jobs are available before the cohort even starts,” Meeks said. “So we’re training them for the actual jobs that are open and also teaching them about the culture of the company as well.”
“In addition, we have a high retention rate, so that’s key as well. So not only are we placing individuals in jobs, they’re staying in those roles and they’re continuing to grow in the company,” Meeks said.
As momentum for GenOne grows, Infor and #YesWeCode are looking to expand the programs model to include training at other large companies like Apple, Target and Best Buy.
“When I look at job creation it’s a negative employment rate. More jobs than we can fill them. There’s a lot of growth within the tech industry. We’re known as being a tech hub but we’re still outsourcing jobs,” Tollefson said.
The first cohort was trained in New York but the program will be spreading to upcoming cohorts to new locations such as West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Atlanta, California, and Minnesota, Cadet said.
When reflecting on Prince’s legacy as a musical vanguard, Tollefson said it’s one thing to be known for creating 100 million records but as the seeds of Prince’s initiatives continue to sprout, posthumous, he will soon be praised for creating 100 million jobs.
“We want to continue Prince and Van’s vision of #YesWeCode of continuing to push the needle forward, continuing to provide opportunities in tech,” Meeks said. “We’re looking to be the go-to place for companies that are looking for top diverse candidates in the tech industry.”