Obama Announces TechHire Initiative

By Bill Leonard Mar 11, 2015
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Looking to boost the nation’s stagnant wage growth in an improving economy, President Barack Obama has announced a government initiative to train and develop a home-grown information technology workforce. White House officials are hopeful that the growing number of workers who possess high-tech skills will help drive pay upward.

“I want to focus on something very specific, and that is how can we work together to build a pipeline of tech workers for this new economy,” Obama said during a meeting of the National League of Cities in Washington, D.C., on March 9, 2015. “What’s more, high-tech jobs pay 50 percent more than the average private-sector wage, which means they’re a ticket into the middle class.”

The White House dubbed the program TechHire, and the president laid out the structure of the program during his speech to nearly 2,000 local community leaders. The initiative aims to give U.S. workers the skills to fill the nation’s growing number of technology jobs. Of the nearly 5 million job openings in the United States, more than half a million are positions such as software developers, network administrators and cybersecurity specialists, according to White House statistics.

Under the program, the federal government will provide assistance to municipal governments to improve training and development opportunities for high-tech workers. The cities would partner with local universities and community colleges to develop educational programs that target low-skilled workers who typically don’t have access to these types of training opportunities.

The president’s initiative will also rely on high-tech educational academies. Several of these academies have already partnered with local governments to provide high-tech training to workers who are looking to get a job in the information technology field. Through an intensive program, the academies train workers in a matter of months and then help the participants find jobs.

More than 20 cities throughout the country, including New York, San Francisco, Louisville, Nashville, Detroit and Kansas City, have committed to taking part in the TechHire program. According to the president, his administration wants to grow the program nationwide and have all cities participate.

“This doesn’t just apply to San Francisco. This doesn’t just apply to Boston. It applies across the board in every part of the country,” he said.

The president added that the initiative does not focus only on the high-tech firms. He pointed out that every industry needs skilled high-tech workers to set up and run their IT systems and safeguard those systems against cyberattacks.

“We tend to think that high-tech jobs are in Silicon Valley, at companies like Google and eBay, or maybe in a few spots like Austin, Texas, where you’ve seen the tech industry thrive,” the president said. “But the truth is, two-thirds of these jobs are in nonhigh-tech industries like health care or manufacturing or banking, which means these jobs are in every corner of the country.”

In addition, the White House is reaching out to private-sector employers and has announced that 300 businesses have already committed to taking part in the TechHire program. Some of the companies, such as Capital One, are recruiting and training lower-skilled workers to perform the IT jobs that the company has had trouble filling. Other companies are working with local governments and schools to identify the kind of training and skills businesses need.

To boost the collaborative efforts among employers, local governments and educational institutions, the president announced that his administration would offer $100 million in competitive grants.

“We’re launching this $100 million competition for innovative ideas to train and employ people who are underrepresented in tech,” the president said. “At a time when we all lead digital lives, anybody who has the drive and the will to get into this field should have a pathway to do so.”

Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.

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