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Austin named a TechHire community

Thursday, March 10, 2016 by Jo Clifton

As Mayor Steve Adler observed Wednesday, one way to fight Austin’s economic segregation is to help those with less economic advantage make more money. And job training in the tech sector is one obvious way that Austin can help make the city more affordable for more people.

Adler joined with representatives of Microsoft, Google, Google Fiber and IBM on Wednesday as well as officials from Austin Community College and various high-tech enterprises and chambers of commerce to announce that the White House has chosen Austin as a TechHire community.

That designation means that those tech companies will work with the city to provide paid internships for up to 200 graduates of accelerated training programs for veterans and low-income residents at ACC, Texas State University and the Everest Institute.

“The TechHire Initiative will help us create the best, most effective job-training ecosystem in the country,” Adler said. “Austin is good at creating jobs. This will make us better at getting our own people ready to take those jobs.”

Some programs with these aims, including several at ACC, are already operating.

Mike Midgley, vice president of instruction at ACC, said the college has several programs designed to get its students into technical careers, including the Career Expressway, which, he said, “takes students who are probably not going to consider IT as a viable career” and gives them training in the area.

The first group of students to attend that program began last fall. “They’ll finish up the first two semesters this spring, and that will be the first group that will do internships – we’ll call them ‘bridge internships’ – with the Austin Housing Authority,” he said.

Midgley said ACC recycles its computers after three years by giving them to the housing authority. That practice gives people who live in housing authority properties a chance to have their own computers. But the computers often need refurbishing. That’s where the student interns will come in.

Midgley said, “We have these students who don’t have any hands-on experience, and that’s an issue for the tech companies.” At the same time, the housing authority has only a small staff to refurbish the used computers. So, people at ACC thought it would be a good idea to put their students into jobs where they could work on the old computers and get that real-world experience they need, Midgley said.

Sandy Dochen, manager of corporate citizenship for IBM, explained that his company has its eyes on a longer-term program, similar to what it has in New York City schools. “We want to bring to Texas and to Austin a model for grades nine through 14 – an academy model where kids get their school diploma, their associate’s degree,” he said. “If there’s a strong business partner at the school, and (the students) are told on the first day of class, ‘You complete this program, and we, the company, will give you a preferential job interview – not a guaranteed job, but an interview.’ We have internships, we have job shadowing, we have all kinds of close interactions with the kids – and we want to bring that to Texas.”

Dochen said that the Austin Independent School District and IBM are both interested in such a program. “That can produce kids that are ready to go to work as soon as they get their associate’s degree, with real substantive skills,” he said.

Dochen said Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has endorsed the concept, and IBM is hoping Gov. Greg Abbott will do the same. That would be helpful, he explained, because the program would require a certain amount of money from the state for the schools involved.

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