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VOL. 130 | NO. 220 | Wednesday, November 11, 2015

New Tech901 Expands City’s Tech Field


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A new nonprofit has launched in Memphis to help guide technology job growth, while showing outside companies advantages of doing business in the Bluff City.

Tech901’s mission is to train current and potential Memphians for a variety of technology jobs while working with employers to increase the local technology job base.

Tech901’s goal is to help the city grow to 10,000 technology workers in 10 years. With an estimated 6,000 workers currently, it’s a rate that will take more than just a few new employers.

The Tech901 team will facilitate new job training and company job growth, as well as support code-based K-12 teacher training.

Robert Montague, executive director of Tech901, said Memphis has plenty of advantages that can make that growth possible, and lead to an estimated $1 billion per year added to the Memphis economy.

“The tech industry struggles with the supply and cost of workers in high-tech centers across the United States,” he said. “Memphis is getting recognition for the improving quality of life. We have the lowest cost of living of many big cities. We have a diverse tech workforce and we can use competitively trained workers.”

Montague said a low cost of living could help the organization meet its lofty goals. Many tech centers such as Seattle and San Francisco are pricing workers out of the market. Some employees in those West Coast tech centers even have agents dealing with prospective employers.

“If we can be known as training competitive workers, and then the cost elements will help,” he said. “I lived in Austin, Texas, when Apple moved its customer services there. It was tone-shaping for the city. It was already a tech center, but it accelerated the view of the rest of the world of Austin.”

Montague founded Tech901 with Steve Denegri, the organization’s chief operating officer. The two were technology investment analyst partners at what was then known as Morgan Keegan & Co. Montague spent 11 years as executive director of the Binghampton Development Corp., where he experienced the technology education needs and possibilities in the community.

In Binghampton, there was a technology club focused on networking exposure for middle school students to learn about technology employment. The club did several Wi-Fi installations around the neighborhood, revealing the need but also showing the possibilities.

“The opportunity was clear that technology can be the great equalizer,” Montague said. “It opens job opportunities across a number of fronts.”

Montague and Denegri had talks with foundations that agreed to support Tech901’s launch. The first step is to focus on technology job training at the high school level, which will give students the skills for installation and help desk roles. The next step will be to pursue high-end development roles.

Tech901 has a three-pronged approach as it recruits, trains and grows the technology field in Memphis. It will start with education.

Tech901 will work with the local Code.org certified trainer to help teachers who can integrate computer education into core subjects. Working with schools to identify prospective tech workers – so they can get the practical training necessary and on an employment track that makes sense in Memphis – is the next step.

Tech901 also will look for high school graduates who match up with installer programs. And already underway is a class at the Juice Plus Technical Training Center for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis. Thirty students were chosen to work toward job readiness certification for help desk out of more than 70 applicants from four high schools.

Tech901 will offer directly or through partners a portfolio of technology career training options that range from system installation and technical support to software development and quality assurance.

Some of the training efforts already available include Memphis-based Cook Systems International, which is providing software developers for enterprise-class applications. Cook Systems provides a training program to students and provides job offers and ongoing support to successful graduates. Tech901 is helping recruit Memphians for the training programs.

“We’d love to have mentors and professional contacts,” Montague said about how the community can get involved in the effort. “There is a lot of good going on in Memphis. At times we can be known for focusing on the negative, but as we share our thoughts and views with tech companies across the country, it’s important to show what we’re doing here to grow the job base. It’s critical for Memphis.”

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