Vice President Biden Announces Bay Area TechHire Grants to Employ the Overlooked

The TechHire program is a collaboration between the government, educational institutions and the private sector to train overlooked workers for the jobs that the technology sector says it can’t fill.

by Carolyn Lochhead, San Francisco Chronicle / June 28, 2016
Vice President Joe Biden Flickr/Jim Greenhill

(TNS) -- Vice President Joe Biden said Monday that the economy is “on the cusp of a genuine resurgence” but that strong growth will depend on training minorities, the disabled, persons with criminal records and other disadvantaged workers to be qualified for well-paying jobs in the technology sector.

Biden spoke to reporters on a conference call during a White House announcement of $150 million in “Tech Hire” training grants, including $4 million to a Bakersfield nonprofit, Exceptional Family Center, that provides computer classes to high-functioning developmentally disabled people.

Oakland and San Francisco were among the first communities receiving job training grants when President Obama announced the Tech Hire initiative last year. The program is a collaboration between the government, educational institutions and the private sector to train overlooked workers for the jobs that the technology sector says it can’t fill, including companies in the industry that use large numbers of H-1B visas for skilled foreign workers.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, has criticized Silicon Valley for “unconscious bias” that ignores qualified applicants for jobs and contracts in her Alameda County district. In a recent interview, Lee said some Silicon Valley companies are making progress but much more needs to be done.

“I’ve been working on this for years and years,” Lee said, “and it’s been really hard.”

Beverly Foster, an administrative director of the Bakersfield program, began crying when she heard the news from a reporter that the program had received the grant.

Finding the Right Fit

Foster said she will focus on higher-functioning high school graduates with autism, Asperger’s syndrome and attention disorders who have a talent for computers and graphic arts, but are spurned by employers and are not getting the vocational and “soft” communications skills that would help them get jobs.

“Many of these kids are still sitting at home three and four years later,” after they graduate from high school, said Foster, who is raising three developmentally disabled children and is a former high school special education administrator.

The state rehabilitation program often places such workers in retail sales jobs, “which is not the best place for them,” Foster said. With the grant money, Foster said these young people will get a year of technology and workplace-skills training and once they are hired by local Kern County businesses working with the program, will receive intensive monitoring and other help.

“We want to make sure they stay hired,” Foster said.

Biden said Obama gave him the job of doing a “thorough, thorough study of the jobs of the future.” He concluded after talking for the last six months to business executives around the country that by the end of this decade, well-paying jobs will require six to 10 years of education beyond high school.

High School Just a Start

“That’s why we no longer think 12 years of free education is enough,” Biden said. “That’s not going to get you through the 21st century economy.”

Biden stressed, however, that the administration is focusing on quicker training such as apprenticeships and “coding boot camps,” because many low-income workers lack the time and money to attend college. Companies told him, he said, that “they need a better-trained workforce, and that’s what we’re doing.” He cited training for jobs such as software developers, with an average salary of $80,000, and computer network specialists who can earn $50,000.

Biden said, “40 percent of these jobs don’t require a four-year college degree,” adding that many people can be trained through a 12- to 18-week course. He said the programs have to produce measured results or they lose their grants. “We’ve got to train and place, not train and pray,” Biden said.

The administration said more than 600,000 tech jobs are open across the country, two-thirds of them in non-tech industries such as health care, advanced manufacturing and financial services.

“There are far too few women and minorities in technology positions,” said Megan Smith, the White House chief technology officer.

©2016 the San Francisco Chronicle Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.