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VOL. 130 | NO. 46 | Monday, March 9, 2015

Memphis Part of Federal TechHire Job Training Effort

By Bill Dries

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Memphis is one of 21 cities involved in a commitment to improve training for workers in the technology sector, and the city will compete for $100 million in federal grant money for tech job training programs.

Memphis is one of 21 cities and communities across the country participating in TechHire, a new initiative announced by President Barack Obama Monday, March 9, to boost training programs to fill existing tech jobs.

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

President Barack Obama announced the TechHire initiative Monday, March 9, at the National League of Cities annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

“Employers tend to recruit people with technology degrees from four-year colleges, and that means sometimes they end up screening out good candidates who don’t necessarily have traditional qualifications they may have learned at a community college or they may have served in our military,” Obama said. “They’ve got the talent but employers are missing them.”

The grant money is for local programs including new approaches such as coding bootcamps and online courses as well as training that takes place over a few months. At the time of the announcement, there were no details on how much funding each city might receive.

The first step in the effort is that Memphis and 20 other cities and communities have pledged to work together to recruit workers for an estimated 120,000 tech jobs that are currently unfilled in those communities.

The other cities include Nashville, St. Louis, Detroit, New York City, rural eastern Kentucky and San Francisco.

The federal grant money to come for the approaches to training and job recruiting are to be coupled with private-sector training and job search initiatives.

The Workforce Investment Network will work with eight Memphis businesses including Unistar-Sparco and Tate Systems as well as Memphis Light Gas and Water Division to create an internship and apprentice program. The first training class will be 50-75 people in the areas of IT support, software development and IT security support.

The city also plans to launch a marketing campaign to specifically increase the number of women, young Memphians ages 18-24, veterans and low-income citizens in the effort.

Obama cited more job openings in the U.S. than at any point since 2001 with businesses adding more than 200,000 jobs a month over the last year.

“Here’s the catch: Over half a million of those jobs are technology jobs,” he said. “A lot of those jobs didn’t even exist 10, 20 years ago, titles like mobile app developer or userface designer.”

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. met Monday afternoon with Vice President Joe Biden and other administration officials involved in the initiative.

“The discussions people have about jobs often fail to discuss the significance of the job vacancy rate,” Wharton said Monday in a written statement. “With compensation in this field 50 percent higher than the average private sector job, there is tremendous potential in our engagement with the President’s TechHIre initiative.”

Obama’s remarks echo those in recent weeks of Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell who has said the city and county’s economic recovery is about more than creating jobs.

“We’ve got the jobs,” Luttrell said in February in his State of the County address. “It has not solved our problem. Getting our workforce up to standards is vitally important.”

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. also has stressed the need for job training, citing the city’s near loss of the Electrolux and Blues City Brewing plant once executives from both companies were on the ground in Memphis in 2011.

Both companies had enough trouble recruiting a trained workforce that they considered rethinking their moves to Memphis or importing needed workers from outside Memphis.

The doubts prompted a rapid response through Southwest Tennessee Community College with federal Worker Investment Network funding to get otherwise qualified employees the short-term specific skills training they needed.

Beyond that, the local effort has broadened to become proactive instead of reactive.

The problem at the outset of the hiring process for Electrolux and Blues City wasn’t just applicants who weren’t qualified. It was finding the right talent including those who already held jobs, had the skills and could have raised their pay.

"Too many Americans think these jobs are out of their reach, that these jobs are only in places like Silicon Valley or that they all require an advance degree in computer science. That's just not the case," said Jeff Zients, director of the White House National Economic Council.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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