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White House TechHire initiative comes to Philadelphia

We speak with key partners to learn how it started, where it's going and what the Philly tech community can do to help.

Groups rehearse for the Philly TechHire pitch contest. (Photo courtesy of Greg Payton)

This post is sponsored by Philly TechHire.

Toward the end of 2014, the White House announced The TechHire Challenge, a “bold multi-sector initiative and call to action,” federal officials said at the time, to provide tech training opportunities to American workers. Since then, Philadelphia, which was chosen as one of the handful of initial cities that would help introduce the program, has been steadily developing Philly TechHire.
Philadelphia Works, which acts as the program’s main liaison with the White House, aims to identify candidates with non-traditional tech skills, like industry-recognized credentials and two-year degrees. Then, according to Philadelphia Works CEO Mark Edwards and Chief Research Officer Dr. Meg Shope Koppel, Philly TechHire will train candidates for the many well-paying tech jobs left unfilled around the city and country.
Alex Styer of Bellevue Communications Group, which represents Philadelphia Works, says, “Their job really is to connect employers to workforce talent and vice versa.”
It makes sense, then, that a shortage of workforce talent would compel Philadelphia Works to take an active role in the creation of it, which is exactly what Philly TechHire, and the larger White House TechHire program, aims to do.

The challenge

Because the unemployment rate for traditionally trained IT professionals is so low, there is a concerning shortage of skilled tech workers for junior or entry-level jobs. However, a large section of our workforce has the aptitude and intelligence to succeed as IT professionals, says Randstad Technologies’ Kara Mancinelli, but they lack the traditional four-year Computer Science Degree training generally required for those jobs.

Kara Mancinelli, left, of Randstad Technologies.

Kara Mancinelli, left. (Photo courtesy of Helen Sanders)

Thus, the goal of Philly TechHire is to fill that gap by training individuals who want to learn relevant tech skills so they can begin careers in technology.
In addition to Philadelphia Works and Randstad, Comcast, PNC and the City of Philadelphia are key partners not only in the development of the program, but also in the future employment of trainees.
“We see this initiative as creating an ecosystem of talent in the Philadelphia region for the long term,” said Comcast’s Matt Taylor via email.

How Philly TechHire is approaching the challenge

Last month’s Pitch Contest, in which four teams of nontraditional IT talent worked to propose a solution to a technology problem at the Free Library of Philadelphia, was an early example of Philly TechHire’s goals.
Each team, sponsored by either Comcast, PNC, Randstad or the City of Philadelphia, researched and presented their idea, with the winners receiving iPads and paid internships at the Free Library, where they will work to implement their proposed technology strategy.
The key employers who partnered with Philly TechHire will create tests geared specifically toward the needs of their companies that candidates will take at the end of their program. If trainees can pass the test, they will be in a place to succeed in an internship, apprenticeship, or entry-level job with the company. Some employers will also commit to hiring a certain number of candidates who successfully complete the program.

Team City of Philadelphia at the Barnes Foundation.

The winning squad: Team City of Philadelphia at the Barnes Foundation. (Photo courtesy of Greg Payton)

“The technology skills they will learn are the skills that employers are actually hiring for. We’re creating a program specific to the needs of today’s job demands,” said Mancinelli.
By rounding out the skills of the current labor pool, Philly TechHire will also prepare the next generation of senior technologists for future advancement.

What can Philly technologists do to help?

Philly technologists can do way more than just give money, say Mancinelli and Styer.
According to Styer, the best way for interested individuals to get involved with Philly TechHire is to show up to organizational events and start a conversation. In order to develop effective programming based on the most in-demand skills, input from members of the tech community — employers and employees — is vital.
Getting employers together to talk about how to make the initiative work best, Styer thinks, is the most essential component of success.
All social and networking events will be announced on the Philly TechHire Meetup page, and there will be a large fundraiser at the Free Library in the spring of 2016. Both individuals and companies can make valuable contributions in the form of leveraging relationships for professional introductions, donating time and services, and spreading the word about the initiative to those who might want to undergo training.
“This campaign is not about discrediting a four-year college degree,” Mancinelli said. “It’s about creating pathways to the tech industry for people who aren’t in a position to pursue a four-year degree, whether because of time, money, or whatever else.”
There are plenty of good reasons to get involved with Philly TechHire, but one is especially obvious: The addition of skilled IT talent to the already thriving Philadelphia tech scene will only further advance the city as a hub of technological impact.

Companies: Comcast / White House

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