WASHINGTON — Targeting stagnant wages in an otherwise improving economy, President Barack Obama is calling on employers, educational institutions and local governments to ramp up training and hiring of high-technology in an effort to drive up higher-income employment.
Obama has obtained commitments from more than 300 employers as well as local governments in 21 regions of the country to train and hire low-skilled workers and make them proficient for jobs in software development, network administration and cybersecurity.
Under the program, the Obama administration will provide $100 million in competitive grants to joint initiatives by employers, training institutions and local governments that target workers who don’t have easy access to training. The money comes from fees companies pay to the government to hire foreign workers under the H-1B visa program.
“Too many Americans think these jobs are out of their reach, that these jobs are only in places like Silicon Valley or that they all require an advance degree in computer science. That’s just not the case,” said Jeff Zients, director of the White House National Economic Council.
Among the communities that have pledged to participate are New York City, Louisville, Detroit, Nashville, San Francisco, and Kansas City, Missouri.
Obama planned to announce the program, called TechHire, during a speech Monday to the National League of Cities.
The initiative is designed to prepare U.S. workers for a growing number of technology jobs. According to the White House, of the 5 million jobs available today, more than half a million of them are in fields such as software development, network administration and cybersecurity.
Obama’s attention to technology comes as the unemployment rate is dropping but wages remain flat.
According to the White House, the average salary for workers with high-tech skills is 50 percent higher than the average private-sector American job.
The administration’s plan is for universities and community colleges to provide training, but to also rely on high-tech educational academies, some of which have entered into arrangements with cities to train workers in a matter of months and then help place them in jobs.
The training academies undergo independent studies to confirm the rate of job placements.
“The new training models have really been open to publishing their results … how many people are getting hired from these training programs,” said Megan Smith, the chief technology officer in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
The unemployment rate in February dropped to 5.5 percent but average hourly earnings rose just 3 cents to $24.78 from January. Raising wages has become one of the biggest challenges of the current economic recovery.
“The world’s technology needs are just moving a lot faster than traditional education solutions. That’s the fundamental problem here,” said Louisville, Kentucky, Mayor Greg Fischer, whose city has pledged to expand an existing program with high tech. “So that’s why these non-conventional methods are needed right now.”