In 2015, President Barack Obama launched TechHire, an initiative based on a simple idea: Build a pipeline of tech talent that can bring new jobs to local economies, facilitate business growth and give residents a pathway into the middle class. To build such a pipeline, TechHire addresses employers’ great need for technology talent with emerging models for quickly training people with limited technology skills to be job-ready in months, not years.
In December 2016, Arizona was named a TechHire community by the U.S. Department of Labor. Within the month, I attended the first TechHire Summit in Washington, D.C., at the White House. The summit brought TechHire communities from around the country together to share their experiences in getting disenfranchised youths ages 16 to 29 training and employment in technology.
While I was there, I had the opportunity to meet with Byron Auguste, president and co-founder of Opportunity@Work. Auguste is credited with creating the TechHire program and will continue to support it under the banner of Opportunity@Work when Obama leaves office this month.
As the sole representative from Arizona, I had a lot of good news to share. I described how in the second year of this initiative, our state launched into action. Led by the Arizona Commerce Authority and Arizona Technology Council, we created a coalition of top organizations and resources that also included the Arizona Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO); workforce investment groups supported by Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act funds in Pima, Cochise and Maricopa counties; Pima, Cochise and Maricopa community colleges; Arizona State University; the University of Arizona; University of Advancing Technology; Goodwill; Chicanos Por La Causa; Salvation Army; and Tucson Urban League. These and other organizations offered their pledge to become a statewide TechHire community, working together to effectively apply existing funding and resources while maximizing the utilization of existing ones.
As many other communities attending the summit had done, the Arizona coalition also came together to build a proposal for a TechHire grant that would have helped us reach the U.S. government’s proposed goal of preparing 100 trainees for technology careers in year one and 500 trainees in three to four years. To make our case, the state government offered its resources to help write the proposal. Unfortunately, we did not win the grant. As it turned out, the U.S. government received 230 proposals and only 39 were funded. However, we applied for and won TechHire designation for the state.
At the summit, I also described how the coalition proposed launching a micro training pilot in 2017 to allocate resources and roles of each member organization using existing funding. The Technology Council would be charged with identifying areas of the workforce in need of information technology talent, social services organizations would source the trainees, and OEO and our college partners would be asked to provide the training. (OEO already has an initiative planned to use workforce programs to test for skills and provide employability skills to incoming talent.) Finally, I detailed how each organization identified by the council as needing talent would be required to consider active participation in the coalition by partnering to provide on-the-job training experiences and ultimately hire qualified applicants.
One of my biggest takeaways from the summit is that the most common challenge faced by most any community is employer engagement. Getting private sector technology employers to step up and provide work-based experiences for these disenfranchised youths can be difficult. Offering an internship or other employment takes a commitment.
However, through the efforts of the state government and our coalition, Arizona is now prepared to continue its work using our own existing resources to ensure that we put disenfranchised youths ages 16 to 29 to work in technology. The TechHire Summit helped us all understand the roadblocks that we may face on this initiative. But together, we are also confident we can make a huge dent in our unemployment rate.
— Steven G. Zylstra is president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council.
The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.