New high-tech jobs initiative: What’s good for the workforce is good for cities

Fri, 2015-03-13 06:00 -- Kevin Ebi

It’s a common complaint: U.S. companies say they have lots of jobs available, they just can’t find anyone qualified to do it. President Barack Obama hopes to address that with a sweeping new initiative that stretches from the federal government to communities, from employers to those looking for better jobs. 

Obama announced the initiative, called TechHire, this week at the National League of Cities meeting. The initiative has three key components:

  • Cities will work directly with businesses to identify needs and accelerate training.
  • The federal government will provide incentives for programs that provide training to people who normally couldn’t take advantage of it.
  • Businesses will provide free training and other resources. Companies helping in this way include Council Lead Partners Cisco, MasterCard and Microsoft.

An economic boost
While the U.S. has a relatively high employment rate, there is an opportunity to employ people to do higher level — and more valuable — work. Nearly half of U.S. companies say they have trouble finding qualified people to do science, technology, engineering and mathematics jobs. A half-million of those jobs go unfilled because of that.

In fact, Obama says there are a half-million job openings today in information technology fields like software development, network administration and cybersecurity. Demand for those skills is outpacing the supply of workers who have them, creating a labor shortage.

Further, Obama says the opportunity isn’t just for cities in high-tech areas like Silicon Valley. Two-thirds of those high-tech opportunities are actually in other industries, like health care, manufacturing and banking, which means every city should be focused on this issue.

Public-private partnerships
Nobody can achieve such an ambitious goal alone. The overall goal of TechHire is to get government and businesses to work together. Companies get the help they need; cities get the economic boost.

Some 21 communities are stepping up initially. These areas represent a cross-section of America, ranging from New York City to a coalition of nearly two dozen counties in rural eastern Kentucky. Each of these communities will work directly with businesses to identify their needs and develop solutions to address them.

The federal government, meanwhile, is providing $100 million in incentives to offer high-tech training to people who would normally be left behind. The money is earmarked to remove obstacles for people for whom things like childcare, disabilities and limited-English proficiency are barriers to traditional training.

Finally, some businesses are providing their own resources, including these Council partners:

  • Cisco is giving select individuals online premium subscriptions to its Cisco Learning Network, which provides training, virtual labs and exam preparation resources on a wide range of topics, including network security, the Internet of Things, industrial networking and enterprise network design.
  • MasterCard already has two of its own programs to encourage more women to enter high-tech careers and says it will continue to work to inspire more people along that career path. It's also working to create more technology apprenticeship opportunities in St. Louis, which is one of the 21 communities taking part in TechHire.
  • Microsoft will pilot an intensive Tech Jobs Academy, which is based on the company's own IT Academy that has already partnered with 18 states and nearly 6,000 schools and community colleges. The pilot will help young adults gain in-demand skills free of charge. Microsoft says the pilot can be scaled based on needs.

It’s not just training
What’s good for the workforce is good for cities. The president cited statistics showing that information technology jobs typically pay 50% more than other positions. Creating more of those high-paying jobs could provide a city’s economy a solid boost.

The Council’s free Smart Cities Readiness Guide helps cities develop strategies to provide high-tech training and attract business. And cities have learned that training is only one component of an effective program. They also need to create an environment where it’s easy for businesses to move in and employ their residents.

The guide profiles a Buenos Aires success story . It worked with Microsoft to greatly streamline its program that helps businesses move there. Before the work was done, it would take businesses three months to navigate the application process. Now they can do it in 30 days or less.

It’s also important for cities to learn about the technology. To understand what companies need, cities need to be able to speak the same language. Council Lead Partner Qualcomm is helping with this effort. It recently launched a Smart Cities Seminar Academy that covers topics ranging from wireless fundamentals to architecture and intelligent connectivity.

The effort is worth it. Providing better jobs for citizens can be reason enough, but cities that have made the transformation have also received huge economic boosts. Buenos Aires, for example, attracted new investments worth more than $8 billion shortly after finishing its project.

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Kevin Ebi is a staff writer and social media coordinator for the Council. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.

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