WASHINGTON – The Twin Cities region will expand its existing role as one of the national testing grounds for a White House initiative aimed at training more people for information technology jobs.
President Obama announced the program expansion Wednesday, citing the need to get people without traditional IT backgrounds into the field, which pays 50 percent more than average occupations.
“We’re not producing enough tech workers,” Obama told mayors and other local officials meeting at the National League of Cities. He called tech jobs “a ticket into the middle class.”
Minnesota’s piece of the president’s TechHire program will be an expansion of tech training programs at three Twin Cities educational facilities that aim to prepare 300 people for entry-level computer software jobs this year.
Prime Digital Academy, IT-Ready and Concordia University’s computer boot camps will teach the skills. Businesses across the Twin Cities region — including 3M, Target Corp., Thomson Reuters, Best Buy and Wells Fargo — have committed to provide the jobs, the White House said.
Prospective employers are already communicating with the tech programs.
“Thomson Reuters is committed to supporting the TechHire program here in the Minneapolis St. Paul area,” said Liz Cherif, the company’s director of corporate technology recruiting. “We are advising the local program on the content of the accelerated programs, as well as TechHire partnership program strategies.”
Bloomington-based Prime Digital trains computer coders using an 18-week curriculum, academy co-founder and president Mark Hurlburt told the Star Tribune. In the past year, Prime has “graduated about 120 people from a swath of different backgrounds,” Hurlburt said.
About half of those people found work within six weeks of completing the program. Many more landed jobs in the subsequent months. The academy’s goal is to place 100 percent of graduates in jobs within six months, Hurlburt said. The first graduating class, which completed training in July 2015, is fully employed.
As a group, Prime graduates who have found work in the computer coding industry now make 250 percent more than they made before they started at Prime, Hurlburt said. The student body often includes young adults in the 25-35 age range who “develop skill sets that haven’t led to meaningful careers.”
Obama stressed the need to get more diversity into the IT workforce, offering up $100 million for a grant competition to make the industry more balanced by gender, race and economic circumstance.
One of the Minnesota TechHire participants cited by the White House is already doing some of that. The IT-Ready program of the Creating IT Futures Foundation launched its Twin Cities venture in 2012. This spring it will offer for the first time a class for women only, partnering with the EMERGE Career & Technology Center in Minneapolis. The eight-week program is taught on a shorter daily schedule than IT-Ready’s normal course to balance family needs, the company said.
That means taking a very quick lunch break in order to get in all the teaching time, IT Futures Foundation’s Sue Wallace explained.
“Nationally, only 25 percent of the IT workforce are women,” she said. “Obviously, there’s a deficit. We want to help women help themselves.”
Wallace said 88 percent of IT-Ready graduates get jobs with average starting pay of $16.25 per hour.
They are the kind of people that Obama hopes will allow the U.S. “to build a pipeline of tech workers” for a “new economy.”
“TechHire communities are going to help employers link up and find and hire folks based on their actual skills and not just their résumés,” the president told the National League of Cities. “Because it turns out, it doesn’t matter where you learned code, it just matters how good you are in writing code.”