Updated: Chattanooga joins White House effort to fill tech jobs

Chattanooga City Hall (Photo: Staff).

Authored By david.morton

Chattanooga is one of 21 communities across the U.S. hoping to fill open technology jobs by providing better access to new training opportunities.

The White House-backed TechHire initiative urges progressive municipal leaders, educators and employers to help train Americans for approximately 120,000 unfilled jobs. The tech sector is one of the largest occupational categories for open jobs.

Two of the region’s largest employers, Unum Group and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, are also participants. They are joining educators, nonprofits and other employers for a task force organized by City Hall as part of the effort. Lamp Post Group, the parent company of Nooga.com, is one of the local participants.

Mayor Andy Berke said he often hears from companies having trouble filling tech jobs because applicants lack the requisite skills. TechHire could increase the likelihood that employers will be able to pull from a local base of residents who are trained for cybersecurity, network administration, project management and other tech-related jobs.

“I want those jobs to be filled by Chattanoogans, and this initiative makes that more likely,” he said.

Tech jobs increasingly do not require a four-year college degree, which is both expensive and time-consuming to attain. New programs could be created through both conventional higher education institutions and nontraditional venues to fast-track workforce training. The local effort includes UTC, Chattanooga State Community College, TN Code Academy and The Public Library as partners.

Kate Miller, Unum’s chief information officer, said the initiative could help fill the employment gap between unemployed residents and current unfilled jobs. That gap is “only expected to grow,” she said.

The U.S. Department of Labor is launching a $100 million H-1B grant competition to support the initiative through training innovations and employment of low-skill individuals with barriers such as child care responsibilities, disabilities, disconnected youth and limited English proficiency.

The Berke administration anticipates its upcoming fiscal budget to allocate some public dollars for the initiative. In the initial partnership, employers will be asked to commit to creating tech-related job opportunities. Education partners will commit to providing training. No timeframe has been established for when training opportunities would begin, a city official said.

Many tech jobs pay as much as 50 percent higher than the average middle-class job, according to Nick Wilkinson, Chattanooga’s deputy administrator of economic development. Yet few of those jobs are held by minority or female employees, who are underrepresented in the tech sector, locally and nationally.

The initiative “will really help us move the needle and move the numbers of diversity in that sector,” Wilkinson said.

Several local officials were in Washington, D.C., when President Barack Obama unveiled the initiative Monday at the National League of Cities summit.

BCBST Chief Innovation Officer Nick Coussoule said the insurance company will play a key role in training and hiring a next-generation workforce.

“We employ about 800 technology professionals and only expect that number to increase,” he said in a prepared statement.

Councilman Chris Anderson, chair of the Economic and Community Development Committee, said, “The first step is to educate and engage our citizens so they can participate in these future economic development opportunities in our city.”

  • City of Chattanooga
  • Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce
  • UTC
  • Chattanooga State Community College
  • A.I.R. Labs
  • The Enterprise Center
  • The Company Lab
  • BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee
  • Unum Group
  • Lamp Post Group
  • EPB
  • Erlanger Hospital
  • Public Education Foundation
  • TN Code Academy/100 Girls of Code
  • Chattanooga Public Library

Updated @ 3:56 p.m. on 3/9/15 to add more information.