Help wanted: Obama’s tech-training project now accepting applications

Organizers of innovative training programs can now apply for a federal grant to help prepare low-wage workers for more-lucrative tech jobs.

Could high-tech training be the ticket out of a low-paying job?

The Obama administration thinks so. The White House took steps Tuesday to advance its nationwide initiative to help young, unemployed and low-skill workers get trained in technology and placed in well-paying tech jobs.

In March, President Barack Obama announced his TechHire initiative, which offers $100 million in federal grants to innovative programs that provide tech training to people with a low income, a disability, or limited proficiency in English. On Tuesday, the Department of Labor opened the application process for those grants.

The initiative comes as almost every American industry needs workers with technical skills in an array of areas, such as software development, network administration and cybersecurity. Meanwhile, more than 6 million Americans from 16 to 24 years old are out of work and not in school, the White House said.

TechHire is supposed to be a way for private industry to work with local communities to not only build a well-trained work force, but also give people the opportunity for a well-paying tech job who otherwise wouldn’t have it. The White House claims that in America the average salary in a job that requires information-technology skills is 50 percent higher than the average salary in a private-sector job.

“When these tech jobs go unfilled, it’s a missed opportunity for low-wage workers who could transform their earnings potential with just a little bit of training,” Obama said in March. “And that costs our whole economy in terms of lost wages and productivity.”

The Department of Labor competition will award money to about 30 to 40 grant recipients, according to the White House press release. At least $50 million of that grant money will go toward programs for young Americans, ages 17 to 29, who have “barriers to training and employment,” the release said. These programs are expected to help prepare them for jobs in technology, health care and advanced manufacturing.

TechHire is also looking beyond traditional modes of training workers, such as university and community college programs, and it’s providing funding to programs that offer coding boot camps and online courses to get workers trained more quickly and for less money. As part of the initiative, the Department of Education is currently accepting applications for a financial aid experiment that will let students access federal student aid to enroll in nontraditional job training programs.

Since TechHire was announced, the White House said, 35 cities, states and rural areas have joined the initiative, along with 500 employer partners. Cities already participating include New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco Washington, DC, and San Jose, California, with more expected to sign on.

In New York City, for instance, Mayor Bill de Blasio has created the NYC Tech Talent Pipeline. The effort builds on an existing relationship with the City University of New York, the Department of Education and the Department of Small Business Services to combine city, state, federal and private funding to establish a program that trains mostly women and minorities for tech jobs in the city. The program also helps set up internships or full-time software development jobs with employers, such as Etsy, Foursquare and Goldman Sachs.

Major tech companies Microsoft and Cisco are also listed on the White House website as participating in the initiative.

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