Bi­den pushes tech train­ing of mi­nori­ties

San Francisco Chronicle - - BAY AREA - By Carolyn Lochhead Carolyn Lochhead is The San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle’s Wash­ing­ton cor­re­spon­dent. Email: clochhead@sfchron­i­ Twit­ter: @car­olyn­lochhead

WASH­ING­TON — Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den said Mon­day that the econ­omy is “on the cusp of a gen­uine resur­gence” but that strong growth will de­pend on train­ing mi­nori­ties, the dis­abled, per­sons with crim­i­nal records and other dis­ad­van­taged work­ers to be qual­i­fied for well-pay­ing jobs in the tech­nol­ogy sec­tor.

Bi­den spoke to re­porters on a con­fer­ence call dur­ing a White House an­nounce­ment of $150 mil­lion in “Tech Hire” train­ing grants, in­clud­ing $4 mil­lion to a Bak­ers­field non­profit, Ex­cep­tional Fam­ily Cen­ter, that pro­vides com­puter classes to high-func­tion­ing de­vel­op­men­tally dis­abled peo­ple.

Oak­land and San Fran­cisco were among the first com­mu­ni­ties re­ceiv­ing job train­ing grants when Pres­i­dent Obama an­nounced the Tech Hire ini­tia­tive last year. The pro­gram is a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the govern­ment, ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions and the pri­vate sec­tor to train over­looked work­ers for the jobs that the tech­nol­ogy sec­tor says it can’t fill, in­clud­ing companies in the in­dus­try that use large num­bers of H-1B visas for skilled for­eign work­ers.

Rep. Bar­bara Lee, D-Oak­land, has crit­i­cized Sil­i­con Val­ley for “un­con­scious bias” that ignores qual­i­fied ap­pli­cants for jobs and con­tracts in her Alameda County district. In a re­cent in­ter­view, Lee said some Sil­i­con Val­ley companies are mak­ing progress but much more needs to be done.

“I’ve been work­ing on this for years and years,” Lee said, “and it’s been re­ally hard.”

Bev­erly Fos­ter, an ad­min­is­tra­tive direc­tor of the Bak­ers­field pro­gram, be­gan cry­ing when she heard the news from a reporter that the pro­gram had re­ceived the grant.

Find­ing the right fit

Fos­ter said she will fo­cus on higher-func­tion­ing high school grad­u­ates with autism, Asperger’s syn­drome and at­ten­tion dis­or­ders who have a tal­ent for com­put­ers and graphic arts, but are spurned by em­ploy­ers and are not get­ting the vo­ca­tional and “soft” com­mu­ni­ca­tions skills that would help them get jobs.

“Many of these kids are still sit­ting at home three and four years later,” af­ter they grad­u­ate from high school, said Fos­ter, who is rais­ing three de­vel­op­men­tally dis­abled chil­dren and is a for­mer high school spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion ad- min­is­tra­tor.

The state re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gram of­ten places such work­ers in re­tail sales jobs, “which is not the best place for them,” Fos­ter said. With the grant money, Fos­ter said these young peo­ple will get a year of tech­nol­ogy and work­place-skills train­ing and once they are hired by lo­cal Kern County busi­nesses work­ing with the pro­gram, will re­ceive in­ten­sive mon­i­tor­ing and other help.

“We want to make sure they stay hired,” Fos­ter said.

Bi­den said Obama gave him the job of do­ing a “thor­ough, thor­ough study of the jobs of the fu­ture.” He con­cluded af­ter talk­ing for the last six months to busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives around the coun­try that by the end of this decade, well-pay­ing jobs will re­quire six to 10 years of ed­u­ca­tion be­yond high school.

High school just a start

“That’s why we no longer think 12 years of free ed­u­ca­tion is enough,” Bi­den said. “That’s not go­ing to get you through the 21st cen­tury econ­omy.”

Bi­den stressed, how­ever, that the ad­min­is­tra­tion is fo­cus­ing on quicker train­ing such as ap­pren­tice­ships and “cod­ing boot camps,” be­cause many low-in­come work­ers lack the time and money to at­tend col­lege. Companies told him, he said, that “they need a bet­ter-trained work­force, and that’s what we’re do­ing.” He cited train­ing for jobs such as soft­ware de­vel­op­ers, with an av­er­age salary of $80,000, and com­puter net­work spe­cial­ists who can earn $50,000.

Bi­den said, “40 per­cent of these jobs don’t re­quire a fouryear col­lege de­gree,” adding that many peo­ple can be trained through a 12- to 18week course. He said the pro­grams have to produce mea­sured re­sults or they lose their grants. “We’ve got to train and place, not train and pray,” Bi­den said.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion said more than 600,000 tech jobs are open across the coun­try, two-thirds of them in non-tech in­dus­tries such as health care, ad­vanced man­u­fac­tur­ing and fi­nan­cial ser­vices.

“There are far too few women and mi­nori­ties in tech­nol­ogy po­si­tions,” said Me­gan Smith, the White House chief tech­nol­ogy of­fi­cer.

Niall Car­son / As­so­ci­ated Press

Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den says tech train­ing pro­grams must produce: “We’ve got to train and place, not train and pray.”

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