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Innovative Tech Training Models to Strengthen Inner City Ecosystems

Written by Amanda Maher

Technology is sometimes referred to as an “enabling cluster” because of its influence on almost every other industry cluster. Many of the nation’s largest industries, such as healthcare, education and life sciences, are all growing as a result of tech. New industries such as “HealthTech” and “EdTech,” for instance, reflect the growing influence of technology on other fields.

Of the more than five million jobs open throughout the United States, more than a half million are tech-related and include software development, network administration and cyber-security. The U.S. Department of Labor projects that by 2020, one million programming jobs will go unfilled.

Earlier this year, the Obama Administration doubled down on technology as a means of strengthening the middle class. In March, President Obama announced the “TechHire” initiative, which began accepting grant applications earlier this month. TechHire seeks to invest $100 million in programs that help underserved Americans gain the skills necessary to access these job opportunities as quickly and as cost-efficiently as possible.

In other words, TechHire is spinning the four-year degree model on its head.

While universities and community colleges still play an important role in skill development, the program encourages communities to look at non-traditional training programs, such as coding boot camps.

Twenty cities were highlighted as national examples for TechHire (or related) efforts already, including Nashville, Philadelphia and St. Louis. A common theme among these cities: public-private partnerships.

In St. Louis, for instance, more than 150 employers are following in MasterCard’s footsteps by partnering with local nonprofit LaunchCode to train women and minorities for jobs in the tech industry. At ICIC we have analyzed the impact of the NYC Web Development Fellowship, which is a partnership with the Flatiron School to train out-of-school 18-26 year olds for skills that tech companies find in highest demand. And in Delaware, JPMorgan Chase and Capital One are among the private sector firms that have agreed to hire entry-level developers who have skills like Java and .Net.

These programs are most successful when companies pull back the curtains and share data regarding which positions they must desperately fill, and which skills are most critical for those positions. In exchange for providing the training, TechHire initiatives require participating private sector companies to review and upgrade their hiring practices (such as requiring a Bachelor’s Degree) to make it easier for those with barriers to employment to fill entry-level positions.

“It turns out, it doesn’t matter where you learned to code, it just matters how good you are at writing code. If you can do the job, you should get the job,” said President Obama.

Traditionally, those who lacked a college degree also lacked opportunity in the tech sector.

Nowhere is this felt more profoundly than in inner city communities, where poverty and minority populations are heavily concentrated. What’s more, many inner city residents lack the formal education that tech companies typically require. It comes as no surprise, then, that only two percent of tech workers at leading tech companies are black; only three percent are Hispanic.

As tech entrepreneur Vivek Ravisankar wrote in a Re/Code article: “Perhaps [TechHire’s] biggest contribution will come in the form of some much needed diversity in the industry.” With its focus on tech training for underrepresented groups of people, TechHire creates new pathways for helping inner city residents access information technology jobs—jobs that pay 50 percent higher than the national average.

While TechHub offers promise for strengthening the middle class, the program also stands to strengthen local tech clusters in cities like Miami. The city is experiencing a surge in activity across its innovation ecosystem. Yet gaps still exist, particularly when it comes to talent retention. Many of the area’s skilled workers leave for opportunities in San Francisco, New York and Austin where the ecosystems are stronger, deeper and more established. Companies in Miami’s burgeoning tech sector are left scrambling for workers in an otherwise shallow talent pool.

“We’re not Silicon Valley, so we have to do things differently,” said Rider Rodriguez, director of sector strategies at KentuckianaWorks in reference to scaling Code Louisville. TechHire provides the much-needed support to do just that—provide tech training differently—and in the underserved communities that need it most.

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