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How To Take Advantage Of President Obama’s TechHire Initiative

Obama’s TechHire initiative is designed to close the tech gap and benefit the middle class. Here’s how to get in on the ground level.

How To Take Advantage Of President Obama’s TechHire Initiative
[Photo: Flickr user Federico Feroldi]

There are currently half a million job openings in information technology. The demand for trained IT workers has already outstripped supply, and this gap is only going to grow wider as more and more organizations realize their need for technical talent. By 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor projects that one million programming jobs will go unfilled.

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When President Obama unveiled the TechHire Initiative, he emphasized the impact it would have on middle-class Americans, especially those without four-year degrees. However, businesses in all verticals and of all sizes stand to benefit just as much, if not more, from TechHire because it will enable them to meet the demands of a market landscape where skilled tech workers are a necessity.

Here are three ways organizations can take advantage of TechHire to improve their business.

1. Gear Up For The $100 million Competition

TechHire aims to find the fastest possible paths for low-skilled individuals with barriers to training and employment to secure well-paying, high-growth technology jobs. The barriers include Americans with disabilities, disconnected youth, workers with limited English proficiency, and people with childcare responsibilities. Many of these populations are not able to follow the traditional path of learning to code–they do not have the time, money, or resources to spend four years acquiring new skills. Accelerated learning programs are a core part of TechHire for this reason. They provide entry-level coders with the skills they need to get hired and thrive in months, rather than years.

To drive innovation on this front, TechHire is launching a $100 million H-1B grant competition. The competition will “support the scaling up of evidence-based strategies” that help participants learn technical skills as efficiently as possible. These strategies include accelerated learning, such as coding bootcamps and online training, as well as work-based learning, and registered apprenticeships, which represent “a proven path to quality employment and the middle class.” According to the Department of Labor, 87% of apprentices are employed after completing their programs.

Employers will also benefit from helping to develop and promote different training models because those efforts will lead to an expanded hiring pool and thus make it easier for them to fill tech positions they desperately need to fill. Employers can get involved by going to this link and filling out the form.

2. Support The Growth Of Local And Underserved Populations

TechHire strives to expand technology job opportunities to underserved areas, as well as underserved populations. Community partnerships with both tech hubs, like San Francisco and New York, as well as off-the-radar locations, like rural eastern Kentucky, Albuquerque, and Philadelphia, are a critical part of the initiative. The goal of these partnerships is to create a clear career on-ramp for people who seek technical positions, regardless of where they live.

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In addition to socioeconomic gaps, geographic gaps exist that prevent technical education from being accessible. Accelerated training models also help to bridge these gaps, because they create more opportunities for people to learn in their communities. Local companies can then hire local people to fill their open tech positions, thereby strengthening the local ecosystem.

Once the training needs are met, the next step is to create new opportunities for potential workers and employers to interact. This can be achieved by holding events like tech meetups, hackathons, and startup weekends, and establishing coworking spaces. By participating in these events, such as by sponsoring a hackathon or encouraging existing employees to mentor at coding bootcamps, employers help create a richer, deeper, broader talent pool, which they can then draw from.

3. Be Open To Non-traditional Hiring Practices

The third action employers participating in TechHire must commit to is using data and innovative hiring practices. This means that rather than relying on traditional metrics, like a college degree or previous workplace experience, employers must think outside the box when it comes to assessing potential hires. I believe this is a step all employers should take, whether or not they are participating in TechHire.

Skills are far more important than schools, especially since many respected universities are behind when it comes to imparting computer science education that is up to date. Furthermore, resumes, GPAs, and previous employment only tell half the story. They neglect to provide insight into “soft skills,” which many leading tech firms recognize as essential.

In today’s hiring climate, all employers should strive to adopt a more data-driven approach to hiring because it will open their eyes to new sources of job candidates and lead to more informed hiring decisions. Employers should replace LinkedIn searches by looking for employees whose skills best suit their greatest needs. And, they should forego the booths at career fairs and instead connect with engineers through apprenticeships, onsite and offsite at hackathons, or coding classes.

Launchcode is a prime example of how to achieve this. Launchcode matches aspiring technologists with local companies through paid apprenticeships that lead to long-term careers and, in fact, was touted as a national model for TechHire program. The nonprofit conducted a successful pilot with Mastercard in St. Louis to build the skills of women and underrepresented minorities for tech jobs. Now, it has developed a network of over 150 employers in the region and plans to place 250 apprentices in jobs at employers like Monsanto, CitiBank, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and Anheuser-Busch.

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The biggest issue here isn’t a lack of tech talent, but a lack of training and hiring programs that enable a broad range of people to acquire the skills they need. With actions like developing and scaling innovative training efforts, participating in local events, and deploying more inclusive hiring practices, we’ll see smart moves for any organization that does not want to be held back by hiring challenges.

What do you think? Will TechHire succeed? Can the government impact tech job hiring in new ways? What do you think should be done?

Vivek Ravisankar is the CEO and co-founder of HackerRank, a platform that is used by over one million developers to hone their skills, and by companies like Amazon, Quora and Riot Games to recruit top tech talent. With a computer science degree from India’s National Institute of Technology, Ravisankar previously worked as a developer at Amazon.

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