President Obama on Monday unveiled a $100 million grant program as part of a new initiative that he said was critical to ensuring the U.S. remains a global economic powerhouse.
Obama called for plans to help thousands of Americans “fill the new jobs of this new century” by using nontraditional courses to turn them into top-level coders, programmers and other technology workers.
“If we’re not producing enough tech workers, over time that’s going to threaten our leadership in global innovation, which is the bread and butter of the 21st Century economy,” the president said in remarks at a Washington conference of the National League of Cities.
“We’ve got this incredible set of opportunities, but we’ve got to have the workers for us to take advantage of it.”
Despite the continuing acceleration of the nation’s economic rebound, Obama pointed to roughly 500,000 unfilled technology jobs throughout the nation, which tend to pay better than the average job. And they’re not just in Silicon Valley.
“There are IT [information technology] jobs in every corner of America, from big cities to small towns, in every sector of the economy,” Jeff Zients, the director of the White House’s National Economic Council, told reporters on a conference call ahead of Obama’s speech. “Getting Americans trained to fill these well-paying jobs is not only the right thing to do but it’s also an economic imperative.”
To try and fill those slots, the White House will work with nearly two-dozen cities and have them compete for $100 million in Labor Department grants that will support new kinds of training and hire people with disabilities, limited English skills and other hurdles to employment. The grants will be financed by a fee on companies that bring skilled foreign workers into the U.S. under the H-1B visa program, which is often used to fill tech jobs.
“At a time when we all lead digital lives, anybody who has the drive and the will to get into this field should have the opportunity to do so,” Obama claimed.
That grant program will help to build on progress made by city officials in recent months, who have collaborated on ideas to expand training programs to teach people how to code and adapt to the new digital economy.
As part of the new TechHire initiative, the White House has named 21 cities and regions from Los Angeles to Detroit — with a combined 120,000 available tech jobs — who have pledged to work together and identify new fast-track training opportunities.
“We found that if we were able to bring the communities together, they were able to learn from each other,” said White House Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith, a former Google executive.
Obama pointed to programs in those cities that give residents free coding boot camps and other resources to help them build a portfolio and find a new job, in lieu of moving them through a traditional four-year computer science degree.
“If you’re not already involved in this, you’ve got to get involved because your community needs this like every other community,” he pleaded to the gathering of local officials.
As part of the effort, the White House announced the support of tech companies and coding schools like Microsoft, LinkedIn and General Assembly, who are committed to helping with the push.
For instance, Microsoft will open up new free or discounted training sessions. Cisco will offer free networking skills to people interested in IT jobs. LinkedIn will offer free data about the supply and demand of IT skills, to help cities better identify where training is needed.
"It’s good for American workers and it’s good for American competitiveness," said Zients.
This story was updated at 12:30 p.m.