- The Washington Times - Monday, March 9, 2015

Calling high-tech jobs “a ticket into the middle class,” President Obama on Monday announced a new initiative aimed at training workers for high-paying tech and computer programming jobs and said the federal government will work with local leaders, private companies and colleges to drive more than half a million Americans toward better salaries.

The president unveiled the program, dubbed TechHire, during a speech to a National League of Cities conference in Washington on Monday morning.

The program will bring together governments, companies and universities to train workers for jobs in the digital age. Equally important to training new workers, Mr. Obama said, is pushing companies to consider applicants who may have the necessary skills but lack a four-year college degree.

The administration said Monday it has secured commitments from more than 300 businesses, along with universities and local governments across the country, to train workers and ultimately place them in high-paying technology-oriented jobs. Some companies also say they will tweak their internal hiring practices in order to find qualified candidates who lack degrees.

“We’ve got a lot of job openings. Here’s the catch — over half a million of those jobs are high-tech jobs,” Mr. Obama said. “We tend to think all of these tech jobs are in Silicon Valley at companies like Google or eBay … but the truth is, two-thirds of these jobs are in non high-tech industries like health care or manufacturing or banking, which means they’re in every corner of the country. There’s no industry that hasn’t been touched by this technology revolution.”

The administration argues that training more workers for jobs in high-tech fields, which pay above-average salaries, is a key component in the broader fight to raise wages for all Americans, which have remained relatively flat even as the national labor market has improved in recent years.

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There are about 5 million job openings in the U.S. today, and at least 500,000 are in high-tech sectors such as software development and cybersecurity. The average salary for positions in those fields, the White House says, is about 50 percent higher than the average job in the private sector.

As part of the initiative, universities, community colleges or other educators would provide the training itself, while governments and private businesses would commit to placing the trainees in open jobs.

The federal government will provide some financial support, including launching a $100 million grant competition aimed at “innovative approaches to training and successfully employing low-skill individuals with barriers to training and employment including those with child care responsibilities, people with disabilities, disconnected youth, and limited English proficient workers,” the White House said.

Leading companies also are providing money for the effort.

“Technology is dramatically changing the way we live and work. Helping people become more digitally fluent is essential for American workers and our economy,” said Richard D. Fairbank, CEO of Capital One, which has launched a $150 million “Future Edge” initiative aimed at training workers for jobs in a digital economy.

“There is an insatiable demand for great technology talent as the rate of change across industries continues to accelerate,” he added.

Capital One also says it has committed to hiring procedures based on “competencies” in computer programming and coding, which the president cast as a crucial piece of the equation moving forward.

“It turns out it doesn’t matter where you learned code. It just matters how good you are at writing code,” Mr. Obama said. “If you can do the job, you should get the job.”

Local leaders applauded the effort and said governments at all levels must come up with innovative ways to offer necessary training.

“The world’s technology needs are just moving a lot faster than traditional education solutions. That’s the fundamental problem here,” said Louisville, Kentucky, Mayor Greg Fischer, whose city has pledged to expand an existing program with high tech. “So that’s why these non-conventional methods are needed right now.”

Cities in Colorado, New Mexico, New York, Kentucky and Tennessee are among the 21 pilot sites announced by the Obama administration for TechHire training programs. The Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry announced just last week that the state has at least 15,000 tech jobs available that employers cannot fill, in such areas as software development and cybersecurity.

⦁ This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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