City joins White House effort to train people for tech jobs

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Minneapolis is one of 20 regions in the country to participate in a new White House TechHire initiative focused on training people for the fast-growing technology sector.

Mayor Betsy Hodges joined President Barack Obama at the National League of Cities’ Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C. Monday morning as he announced details of the initiative.

“Now, we tend to think that all these tech jobs are in Silicon Valley, at companies like Google and eBay, or maybe in a few spots like Austin, Texas, where you’ve seen a tech industry thrive,” Obama said. “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.”

The country has about 5 million job vacancies and more than half are in the high-tech sector, according to the White House. The jobs also pay 50 percent more than the average private sector wage.

The 20 regions kicking off TechHire have over 120,000 vacant technology jobs. 

“As technology changes the way we interact as individuals, it is also shaping our work environment and shifting the nature of skills needed to fill today’s jobs,” Hodges said. “While Minneapolis does enjoy great economic momentum with just a 3 percent unemployment rate, we know that not all share in that momentum.”

She said the TechHire project is a good opportunity to close the unemployment gap between white people and people of color.

TechHire will focus on helping jobseekers acquire high-tech skills through universities and community colleges along with coding boot camps and online courses.

Three local accelerated training programs — Prime Digital Academy, IT-Ready and Concordia University Bootcamp — will expand to provide training for 300 this year for entry-level software jobs.

The Nerdery, a custom software design and development company, launched Prime Digital Academy in December 2014. It’s an 18-week accelerated learning program that focuses on foundational software engineering skills.

Concordia University’s Bootcamp, which also launched in 2014, is the first IT coding bootcamp offered by an accredited university for college credit. It’s a 12-week program designed to train students for jobs as junior developers in local businesses. 

IT-Ready got its start in Minneapolis in 2012. It’s a program of the Creating IT Futures Foundation, which focuses on helping unemployed and underemployed people with limited IT experience train for jobs in the industry. 

Minnesota has more than 120,000 tech workers with a payroll near $10 billion, according to the Minnesota High Tech Association. The jobs have an average salary of $79,200. Within 10 years, the state is expected to have 200,000 technology jobs — not including those in healthcare.

The TechHire initiative also includes a $100 million grant competition from the Department of Labor for innovative ideas to get more underrepresented people — like women, people of color and veterans — into tech jobs.

“At a time when we all lead digital lives, anybody who has the drive and the will to get into this field should have a way to do so, a pathway to do so,” Obama said.  

Don Ball, co-founder and chief creative officer for CoCo, said diversifying the tech sector could have a big impact. CoCo, which has co-working hubs in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Uptown and Fargo, has become a magnet for high-tech professionals.

“The tech sector is clearly in need of some diversity, not only to spread the opportunity more evenly in society, but because we all need to be working with a diversity of ideas,” he said. “People and companies build technology for problems they are aware of. So, imagine if we could increase the scope of problems that tech companies believe are worth solving?”

Kyle Coolbroth, co-founder and CEO of CoCo, said it makes sense for people in corporate IT to pursue four-year degrees, but accelerated programs could be a boon for local startups.

“What we’ve been hearing for a long time from local startups is that they can’t find programmers who work in the languages and platforms they tend to use,” he said. “So, it’s encouraging to see Prime Digital Academy and Smart Factory teaching the “flavors” of technology that startups are starving for.”