President Obama unveiled a new plan to train workers for more than 500,000 unfilled information technology jobs that have been created by an economy that seems to be springing to life after years in the doldrums.
The president's initiative, which he described Monday at a meeting of National League of Cities in Washington, doesn't involve big expenditures of taxpayer money or heavy involvement from the federal government. Instead, it was designed to encourage cities to create their own programs to train workers.
With Congress gridlocked and many state legislatures under Republican control, Obama is increasingly turning to city and county governments to implement programs that have been blocked in Washington. "We've worked with many of you to lift the minimum wage while we're waiting for Congress to do something," he said. "And over the past two years, more than 20 cities and counties have taken action to raise workers’ wages."
The White House's announcement follows a string of positive employment reports that have shown a sustained pace of hiring, tempered by flat wages.
The new program partners with 20 local communities and 300 companies to train and hire Americans for mid-level technical jobs using "coding bootcamps," data analytics to match job-seekers and employers and a $100 million innovation competition.
The average salary for workers in these technical positions is 50 percent higher than average private-sector jobs, according to the administration.
The 20 cities that will take part in the program include St. Louis, Portland, Nashville and Philadelphia. The initiative is designed to fill technology gaps in sectors including retail, manufacturing and financial services across the country, Obama said, as opposed to highly specialized engineering roles found in Silicon Valley.
Industry groups said the new program has the potential to streamline thousands of efforts at the local level.
“I think what it does is bring more coordination between nonprofits, training organizations, schools and government,” said Charles Eaton, CEO of the Creating IT Futures Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Washington trade group CompTIA. “That coordination is critical because in many cities, there are a lot of small programs, but they aren't well known.”
“We are pleased to see the White House providing specific focus and resources to help fill important technology jobs, many of which require community college coursework or certifications rather than more advanced degrees," Bobbie Kilberg, president of the Northern Virginia Technology Council, said in a statement.
CompTIA, whose members include technology companies and Washington-area contractors, plans to expand its training programs this year through the national initiative, Eaton said. Financial firm Capital One, which announced a similar training program last week, said it will provide consulting services to all 20 pilot cities this year.
The president underscored the role of local government officials in his concluding remarks.
"Ultimately, success is going to rest on folks like you — on mayors, councilmembers, local leaders — because you’ve got the power to bring your communities together and seize this incredible economic development opportunity that could change the way we think about training and hiring the workers of tomorrow," he said. "And the good news is these workers may emerge from the unlikeliest places."