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What to Expect from Indianapolis' Designation as a White House TechHire City

The city will foster training for jobs in software development, network administration and cybersecurity, and has already made a name for itself in the tech community with companies headquartered in Indy including Angie’s List and ExactTarget.

by Kris Turner, The Indianapolis Star / March 29, 2016
Downtown Indianapolis Shutterstock

(TNS) -- The need is clear: Indianapolis’ tech industry is expected to blossom in the next decade, calling for an additional 51,500 workers by 2025.

To help the city on its way to a computing-based future, the White House designated Indianapolis as a TechHire city this month. The program prepares low-skilled workers for high-paying tech jobs.

“It’s exciting because it will help inspire employers to understand that great talent doesn’t have to come out of a four-year university,” said Sally Reasoner, director of talent initiatives at TechPoint, a group that works to accelerate the growth of Indiana’s tech community. “There are other training pathways to scale up talent in the state.”

The TechHire program builds on the work already being done in Indianapolis, Reasoner said. The city has made a name for itself in the tech community with companies such as Angie’s List and ExactTarget, a business that was sold to Salesforce in 2013 for $2.5 billion.

The TechHire designation will foster training for jobs in software development, network administration and cybersecurity. Up to 186 people could get jobs this year as a result of it, according to an estimate from the Obama administration, which also predicts 560 people could be employed by the close of 2018.

The program links resources such as the coding school Eleven Fifty Academy, TechPoint and EmployIndy, Marion County’s workforce development board. It also enables the city to compete for federal funding, although none is specifically set aside for the program.

TechHire originated with 21 locations and has grown to 50.

“Indianapolis has invested a lot of time and resources to build the footprint of technology companies here,” said Shelly Towns, senior vice president of product at Angie’s List, one of the companies participating in the TechHire program. “That’s often overlooked as our selling point as a city and economy.”

Other Indiana employers participating in the program include Apparatus, Blackboard, Bloomerang, FiberIndy, Interactive Intelligence, NetLogix, TCC Software Solutions and WDD Software Solutions.

TechHire has been successful in Louisville, Ky., where about 500 people have completed training programs. The real benefit, though, has been developing a training structure that can be used to usher in new generations of workers, said Ted Smith, chief of civic innovation for the city of Louisville.

“It has worked out very well,” he said. “This is the first program in the country where we’ve seen tremendous diversity in terms of race, gender and age. We have an unbelievable cross section. It’s like walking into the grocery store.”

Louisville, like Indiana, has a strong manufacturing tradition. TechHire has filled some of the gap created by the loss of manufacturing jobs due to technological advancements and outsourcing, Smith said.

As manufacturing continues an overall decline, it will have a harsh impact on Indiana’s workforce over time. Indiana leads the nation in manufacturing employment, which accounts for almost 17 percent of the state's workforce.

In fact, Indiana lost 235,058, or 31 percent, of its manufacturing job base from 1969 to 2014, according to data from the U.S. Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Although Indianapolis will have tech jobs to replace those lost by a gradual decline in manufacturing, there’s more work to be done, said Frank Sprague, manager of technology recruiting at Blackboard, one of the Indianapolis companies participating in TechHire.

The biggest obstacle is ensuring that workers who would have been employed in low- to midskill manufacturing jobs receive adequate training, Sprague said.

“The challenge for EmployIndy is if they think they can put these people in an eight-week boot camp and make them credible software engineers, that goal might be a little lofty,” Sprague said.

The training is intended to give people a basic skill set that can be expanded over time, Sprague said.

The training provided under TechHire will be a launching pad for creating a more skilled workforce, Reasoner said. The training builds on the tremendous growth the city has seen in tech jobs, which increased 17 percent, or 5,000 jobs, from 2009 to 2014, she said.

“This microcluster of tech is booming,” she said. “We are moving the needle. The programs we are working to build and grow are making an impact.”

At the end of the day, it’s about opening doors to people who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to work in tech jobs, Reasoner said.

“It means that the young person who is working at FedEx and has tinkered with computers in the background and doesn’t have a degree in computer science can find a way to technology,” she said. “They can find training resources that will get them in the door that can make them a systems engineer.”

IndyStar Washington Bureau reporter Maureen Groppe contributed to this story.

©2016 The Indianapolis Star Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.