Getting Connected

Tech901 graduates new technology workers for jobs in Memphis

By Andy Meek

Ivan Ortiz found himself not too long ago with a passing interest in pursuing an IT career – passing, in that he wasn’t completely sure about it, nor was he totally sure how to make it a reality.

Today, at his job at FedEx TechConnect, Ortiz’s work encompasses everything from hardware repair on desktop computers to more intensive laptop repair as well as software duties.

Brandi Walton, a corporate recruiter for Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, speaks to Tech901 graduates at a job fair held at Crosstown Concourse before their graduation on Dec. 19.  (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

And for that, he thanks Tech901, a nonprofit that’s focused on one thing: Training workers like Ortiz to be better prepared for jobs in Memphis’ technology sector.

The Tech901 program just graduated around 80 students last week from its fall 2017 classes, and it collectively trained 267 total students during 2017, up 40 percent from 2016.

Tech901’s goal for 2018 is 233 new students, with a scheduled capacity for 260 new students and a plan to have 348 total students go through training.

“I’ve benefited through Tech901, because I actually received a job opportunity right after the first class, and I’m currently still there,” Ortiz said. “While I’ve been (at FedEx TechConnect), I’ve had some hands-on training that was equivalent to the class that I was taking.

Ivan Ortiz is a recent graduate from Tech901 who now works at FedEx TechConnect repairing desktop and laptop computers as well as doing software work. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

“I don’t think I’d be able to be where I am now without Tech901, because they have partners in various fields. And that’s a great benefit to me. I wasn’t sure I wanted to pursue an IT career, I just knew I wasn’t well-rounded in IT. So I wanted to push myself and challenge myself.”

The nonprofit was founded in July of 2015, and its charter spells out a goal of training current or potential Memphians to grow the technology job base here to 10,000 workers by 2025.

The course list includes classes in IT Networking, Foundations, Security and Projects, as well as a Code 1.0 Introduction to Computer Science. Classes are held at Crosstown Concourse and at the FedEx Institute of Technology at the University of Memphis. Key supporters include Hope Christian Community Foundation, FedEx, Regions Bank, Orgill Inc. and the FedEx Institute of Technology.

“We provide affordable, economically accessible training to people looking to start careers or change careers and grab the opportunity that technology provides,” said Tech901 executive director Robert Montague. “When we started, we went and visited with a lot of senior managers and CIOs, and one of the biggest needs we found was for hardware technicians – someone who builds and repairs computers, as well as a fair number of help desk opportunities. Every day, the software programming world also gets to be a bigger and bigger component of our lives and products and workplaces, so software programming is the third area.”

Classes are generally 12 to 14 weeks long, and more are coming right up. Two IT Foundations classes are starting Jan. 3 and then a code class later in January.

The average age of an entering Tech901 student is 29. Forty-one percent are under age 24, and 45 percent are between 25 and 40.

Women make up 37 percent of Tech901’s students. Seventy-two percent are African-American, Hispanic or Asian-American.

Montague is excited to see the program advancing well on its way toward its ultimate goal of a tech workforce here of 10,000.

“Throughout our city, you see a tremendous need for careers,” he said. “For jobs, first of all, but careers. With growth and good pay opportunities and the ability to grow over time. It’s been really rewarding to work with students who work so hard and who are able to really change the trajectory of their lives.”