Tech & Work

White House plays matchmaker with local geeks and leaders to get more people into tech jobs

In an effort to close the skills gap in tech, on Friday the White House hosted a confab with local tech meetup groups to build momentum for its TechHire initiative.

Image: Erin Carson/TechRepublic

When the White House announced in March its TechHire Initiative — a plan that aims to get Americans quickly plugged into the half million tech jobs projected to be open in the coming years — they fanned out across a myriad different approaches to connect people with skills and subsequently, jobs.

From coding boot camps, partnerships with universities, federal grants, and involvement with local government officials within cities, the White House made it clear that there's not one way to close the skills gap.

On Friday, April 17, The White House focused on one particular aspect of the plan — tech meetup groups — and invited leaders of these groups from across the country, from Alaska to Florida, to the White House to discuss who they are, how they started, and what they need to make a greater impact within their communities.

Meetup.com founder and CEO Scott Heiferman called it "forging the future in a non-obvious way."

See: New 'TechHire' initiative from the White House aims to get more Americans plugged into tech jobs

During the morning, the leaders of these groups, as well as others from various related organizations, took about 3 minutes each to introduce themselves and their various foci and concerns, including attracting and supporting women, minorities, youth, and, at baseline, creating the kinds of opportunities that lead to easy access to skills training and job placement.

For example, Zach Leatherman from NebraskaJS talked about battling brain drain—losing top talent to other parts of the country—drawing the attention of companies to the local talent pool, and essentially making sure no one is held back by negative perceptions relating to their geographic location.

For Aliya Rahman, formerly of Code for Progress, her efforts involve "desegregating tech."

"Community organizers are inherently systems hackers," said Rahman.

Part of what this means is finding ways to reach out to those, like minorities, who might not even consider a career in tech.

"Some of the best techies might never get there," she said.

Brett Greene of New Tech Seattle, which hit 9,000 members in two years, talked about realizing that people at their events were having trouble connecting with each other. They started color-coding badges so potential employers could easily spot job seekers, or founders could find each other.

"Tech is a scene, but community is really what it's all about," said Greene.

Diane Hessan from the Start Up Institute, which offers training not just in programming languages, but in areas like sales and even culture skills (think soft skills needed to be successful in an office), said her organization faces difficulty expanding into new states.

Another common issue that quickly surfaced is that of physical space. Many of these groups described situations in which membership boomed, forcing them to figure out where to actually put people for meetings and the like.

Megan Smith, CTO for the United States government, periodically interjected, including with the comment that one reason to reach out to those in local government is to find out about opportunities like public or government spaces that could be used to house meetings, training sessions, networking events, etc.

And really, what all this amounts to, as Ryan Burke of the National Economic Council said, is the White House playing "matchmaker" by surfacing needs and resources, all in the effort to create a national tech hiring environment that's inclusive and easily accessed so that "anyone who can do the job can get the job," said Rafael Lopez, event emcee.

The TechHire Initiative currently includes 21 cities in the US. Lopez said the next steps for the initiative involve collecting best practices from those 21 cities to see what's been working, and doubling the size of the program by year end.

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Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.

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