In his State of the Union Address, President Obama vowed to remedy the nation's workplace inequalities through the creation of a program that will establish new pathways for would-be technology workers. And on Nov. 17, federal and state officials cemented that vow further.
Joining at City Garage in Baltimore, Md., they announced the city as the 35th addition to TechHire, a program that will establish partnerships that circumvent traditional avenues of pursuing high-tech jobs by offering opportunities to young people and former prison inmates. In conjunction, the U.S. Department of Labor also announced a $100 million grant competition to support innovative approaches to getting training to "the people who need it most."
White House Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith explained that TechHire is a partnership between several realms of society.
"It's a multisector initiative where we're working to empower Americans with skills they need using alternative training in addition to the four-year degree," Smith said, adding that the program is using code boot camp and apprentice models to support people to enter these jobs in months, not years.
"The next component is the employers themselves, supporting them to be able to make these jobs open to allow their companies to grow," she said. "Many of the employers are working on making alternative pathways so that they can review and be open to someone who's coming through a code boot camp where previously they may not have reviewed that kind of resume. The third part of the ecosystem is the workforce development, the mayor's office and all the other players in the city who are helping that job matching come together."
Though a national program, the announcement's location — Baltimore — is a symbol of the problem being addressed. Harvard economist Raj Chetty listed Baltimore as last in a list of the 100 largest cities ranked by economic mobility for young people. The city's leadership is present, Smith said, but more work must be done to establish opportunities for young people in cities like Baltimore.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the opportunities are there for people, but finding them is the challenge many citizens face.
"[There is] limited mobility for many of our young people," she said, "which is why not only do I think it is a perfect city to highlight TechHire, but it's a perfect city to see what is possible when you connect the young people who we're working with through [our employer partners]."
Baltimore partners include Verizon, Browns Communications, Delmock Technology, G&G Solutions, Locas Technology, Digit All Systems, Intellibit, SeeFuture, Microsoft and BITH energy group.
"These are companies that have stepped up to say that they want to be a part of the new Baltimore economy and creating pathways for opportunities for all of Baltimore's residents," Rawlings-Blake said.
Even today's less-prestigious jobs are high-tech jobs, said U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, and that's why a program like TechHire is needed.
"[There are] so many other companies where IT is at the center of what they're doing. They look nothing like the Buffalo industrial factories of my youth," he said. "Today's assembly lines have people walking around with iPads, and they're not using them to download music. This is not your father's Oldsmobile."
The $100 million TechHire partnership grant program offers funds to make these kinds of opportunities possible, he said. The grant, he said, will target at-risk youth, people with disabilities, individuals with limited English proficiency and former offenders.
"The bottom line is we need to make sure everyone has access to the skills they need to excel in these jobs and share in this economic recovery," he said. "And to get there, we must support everyone who is trying to build up their skill set and tear down barriers to employment. This is not simply a moral imperative or a social justice imperative, this is about our enlightened self-interest in the nation. It's about building a stronger nation through shared prosperity."
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto echoed the sentiments of Mayor Rawlings-Blake — the opportunities are there, but with no ladder for the people on the bottom to hoist themselves up.
"It's by partnering with our investment board, our community college and a few other organizations that we want to be able to take about 500 young people who would not otherwise have this connection and make it real," Peduto said. "We have jobs waiting for people, but we don't have the skilled people to take them, and then we have high unemployment in predominantly African-American parts of the city that's lacking the means to get there. TechHire for us is really a bridge to be able to connect both of them together."