A Pathway to Filling Arizona’s Technology Jobs 

by Steven G. Zylstra

In March 2015, President Barack Obama announced the TechHire initiative as a way to build a pipeline of tech talent for bringing new jobs to local economies, facilitating business growth and giving residents a pathway to the middle class. The key behind the effort is, the talent comes from the training and placement of undereducated youths ages 18 to 29 into the technology field. The ultimate goal is to provide a steady workforce in areas of great need in the technology sector while reducing unemployment among these youths.

Led by the Arizona Commerce Authority and the Arizona Technology Council, Arizona seized on the initiative and created a coalition of top organizations and resources. They include the Arizona Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO); workforce investment groups supported by Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act funds in Pima, Cochise and Maricopa counties; Pima, Cochise and Maricopa community colleges; Arizona State University; The University of Arizona; University of Advancing Technology; Goodwill; Chicanos Por La Causa; Salvation Army; and Tucson Urban League.

Arizona has been recognized as one of 50 TechHire communities, but didn’t receive a federal grant. Not receiving the funds didn’t deter us from moving forward. We vowed to use existing resources from each organization to carry on the activities we could economically manage.

I was recently invited to represent Arizona at the first TechHire Summit held at the White House. The summit brought TechHire communities from around the country together to share their experiences. My key takeaway was, the biggest roadblock to success is getting technology companies to trust and hire new trainees from TechHire job training programs.

The simple reason for this challenge is that organizations are focused on running efficiently and innovating tomorrow’s products and services. The onboarding, hiring and training process, especially with undereducated youths, takes a lot of resources. Many businesses feel that, despite a need for talent, the risk of bringing in an inexperienced technology professional is more of a time investment than it can afford.

We are tackling this issue by leveraging the TechHire coalition’s existing relationships to help hiring organizations understand the bigger picture. Together, we can establish the message that the long-term impact of this initiative will vastly improve Arizona’s economy because it reduces unemployment and gives citizens with limited prospects chances for lucrative careers in technology. Companies such as AmEx, GoDaddy, Charles Schwab and Logicalis are already hiring undereducated youths from programs similar to TechHire, such as Year Up. This gives hope we can overcome the challenges of getting the private-sector technology companies engaged.

Arizona has one major advantage over other TechHire communities: We formed this coalition as a state while most communities joined as a county or city. This gives us the backing of organizations across Arizona and a plethora of resources to leverage. The fact that the Arizona state government has also lent its support provides possible incentives for organizations to participate.

As the economic development and workforce opportunity organizations in our TechHire coalition slowly integrate the programs to identify talent and begin training, it’s up to the rest of the coalition to solidify the message. Together, we are confident we can make a difference and open our middle class to those who otherwise might be left behind.

Steven G. Zylstra is the president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council. He is responsible for strategy, operations and accomplishment of the council’s policy development. A vocal spokesman for the value that technology can provide in raising social and economic standards in Arizona, he has served in numerous technology advisory roles to Arizona governors and currently serves on several association, industry and community boards.

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