White House expands TechHire for Americans, opens door to more international students, powers up makers

The White House added 15 new communities to its TechHire initiative to equip more Americans for tech jobs. It also announced a new STEM OPT program for international students.

Image: Greg Sandoval/CNET

On Wednesday, the White House announced the addition of 15 new communities to its TechHire initiative, bringing the total number of communities up to 50.

TechHire initially launched in 21 communities across the US, with the goal of getting more Americans trained for jobs in IT. In June 2015, at the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the President set a goal to double the number of communities involved to more than 40, which has been surpassed with this announcement.

SEE: Help Desk Policy Template (Tech Pro Research)

The TechHire initiative was first announced one year ago, to the day. At the time, the President said in a speech that there were about five million open jobs total, with roughly 500,000 of those in tech, but not enough people to fill them.

The initiative is focused on changing recruitment practices, encouraging partnerships with private sector leaders, and expanding education in the space—including four-year degrees and nontraditional education such as coding camps.

Additionally, the Department of Labor put up $100 million in order to "support innovative approaches to training and successfully employing low-skill individuals with barriers to training and employment including those with child care responsibilities, people with disabilities, disconnected youth, and limited English proficient workers, among others."

SEE: How the White House 'Opportunity Project' wants to use open data to improve communities (TechRepublic)

As part of the latest announcement, examples were given of the success of the initiative in two different states. In Vermont, a certain, tuition-free IT program saw 38 of 39 participants finish their apprenticeships and become employed in positions making $40,000-$50,000 a year.

Gina Raimondo, the Governor of Rhode Island, noted that companies like Citizens Bank and Hasbro have committed to working with TechHire in the state as well. Raimondo said the goal is to hire on "candidate potential" and "mastery of skill," not formal education.

Rider Rodriguez Jr., the director of sector strategies for KentuckianaWorks, has worked with TechHire as a part of Code Louisville since 2015. He said that TechHire added credibility to the Code Louisville organization and increased the network of people they were able to work with.

"TechHire and President Obama's visit really ignited interest in technology here in Louisville," Rodriguez Jr. said. "It isn't that we didn't have a strong tech community, but rather that your average Louisvillian was not thinking about Louisville as a place for technology. There is now a buzz in the air and it is the sort of thing that would have taken a lot more time and effort without TechHire."

Tom Kalil, deputy director for technology and innovation for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, also made an announcement of a new way the White House will help strengthen and extend on the job training for international STEM graduates.

The STEM OPT (optional practical training) regulation will allow an international student, who is earning a STEM degree in the U.S., to stay for 36 months after graduation, if eligible, for on-the-job training. The students could be eligible for STEM OPT for both undergraduate and graduate school separately. Kalil said that the STEM OPT includes safeguards to prevent student exploitation and to protect the job security of U.S. workers. The effective date for the deployment of STEM OPT is May 10.

Additionally, Kalil said that the Department of Education will also be announcing a "maker promise," which is a pledge of K-12 schools to create makerspaces and display the work being done. Also, the White House will be formally celebrating a Week of Making, like they did in 2015, this summer from June 17-23 to coincide with the national Maker Faire.

The TechHire update is only the latest in a host of tech-centric moves that the Obama administration has made recently. In February, he announced a $19 billion budget for cybersecurity initiatives, and the White House recently announced its Opportunity Project, which uses open data to improve local communities.

This latest announcement precedes President Obama's keynote address at SXSW in Austin, Texas. TechRepublic's Erin Carson will have more on the story next week.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. The White House TechHire initiative is expanding into 50 total communities in the US. The program has seen success in areas like Vermont and Rhode Island, where many people have completed apprenticeship programs in IT.
  2. The new STEM OPT (optional practical training) will allow international students studying a STEM field to stay for three years after graduation for on the job training. International students who are considering studying in the US should take this into account.
  3. The White House will celebrate a "Week of Making" from June 17-23 as a complement to the national Maker Faire, and many K-12 schools are pledging to support the maker movement as well.

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Conner Forrest is News Editor for TechRepublic. He covers startups and enterprise technology and is passionate about the convergence of tech and culture.

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