40,000 Partners Wanted. Will you be one of them? Learn more.

Connecting people to opportunity in tech-sector

Ever considered a career in technology? Paula Richard of Monroeville is ready to give it a try.

Richard was one of more than 50 people who attended an information and recruitment session aimed to fill two boot camps as a part of Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board's TechHire Pittsburgh initiative.

"I'm collecting unemployment right now and heard about this opening, and I'm looking to start my new career," says Richard, who did programming in her 20s then worked for 27 years repairing copiers. The chance to be part of a free 12-16 week boot camp learning quality assurance or web application development sounded too good to be true.

"I think it's great," she said. "Especially because you need something quick and get back out (to work). I have a son in college. I have to pay for him."

TechHire Pittsburgh connects to a national strategy to expand the local tech sector by building a strong talent pipeline. It is a key initiative of Partner4Work and its partners PA CareerLink® Pittsburgh/Allegheny County, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, Allegheny County, the City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education, and other regional workforce boards.

TechHire Boot Camp

Technology firms Rivers Agile and Mined Mines developed and will deliver the training needed to groom the talent pipeline for positions at their firms. Rivers Agile's team of developers, designers and product strategists are based in Canonsburg and create custom software solutions.

"One conversation led to another and we ended up in a meeting with a pretty interesting group who were interested in taking part in this alternate pathway of getting people into the tech industry," said Rivers Agile CEO Ben Wilson. "When it comes to boot camps in Pittsburgh, the concept is growing. One of our first jobs is to educate what a boot camp is and how it is even possible that in just 12 or 16 weeks, someone can learn enough to get an entry-level job. We cut out all those things that are not necessarily prepping you for that job."

River Agile's boot camp offers the opportunity to become a Quality Assurance Analyst. That's a position that tests websites or software looking for and troubleshooting issues. The training program requires a commitment of 20 hours a week for 12 weeks.

The second boot camp track is conducted by Mined Minds Software Training & Consultancy based in Waynesburg which provides training to those interested in a career in software development. This track teaches participants to be web developers creating code for websites or mobile apps and requires a commitment of 40 hours a week for 16 weeks.

Mined Minds co-founder Jonathan Graham likes bringing people from different backgrounds together so they can use various ways of thinking to help solve problems and write code. This is the organization's fifth boot camp.

"It's awesome when you see people who have not held a job before or have had trouble with the law — all sort of backgrounds — find something that sparks their passion" he said. "They evolve from having never written a line to being able to put code into production. It's quite a privilege to watch."

Need For Local Talent

Leaders of Rivers Agile and Mined Minds agree that there are many jobs in technology in the area but not enough trained talent to fill them. "

It's impossible to find the talent right now," says Amanda Laucher, co-founder of Mined Minds. "It turns out that most people when they want to get into the tech field think they have to move to Silicon Valley or New York or Chicago. Across the  United States, there's not enough talent right now."

That's where PA CareerLink® Pittsburgh/Allegheny County Business Services Manager Ida Ford comes in. 3RWIB and CareerLink work in tandem to connect motivated job seekers with the right aptitude with opportunities like the TechHire boot camps.

"Pittsburgh is one of the major hubs for technology, and when you also look at the universities in the area, that also breeds an environment for tech jobs," she said. "The disconnect is that while some job seekers may not have specific qualifications, they have the drive and aptitude to succeed."

"This is our way of giving back to the region by finding those people, connecting them with these opportunities, and helping them find gainful employment."

The web developer and quality assurance positions are entry level, but pay well and offer a solid foundation for career advancement, Ford said.

"These are starting at an entry level but they're paying very well at $50- $60,000 per year, so they're taking care of their families and then they can move and grow," Ford said.

Larry Smedley of Penn Hills is hoping he'll be accepted into the quality assurance boot camp. He has a background in electronics and industrial chemical analysis but is currently collecting unemployment. "It's already laid out. My foundation already is analytical," Smedley said. He was pleasantly surprised at the varying ages of the applicants at the recruitment. "It's great because you're not running into an age discrimination thing, and you're able to utilize your experiences more broadly. You're not only going out to repair something but you're also looking at how you can make it better."

The boot camps begin in January 2017 with 30 positions available. Once participants complete the free boot camp, they may be offered a paid apprenticeship for three to six months with an opportunity for a full-time position to follow. About 10 slots remain in the initial classes.

To qualify for the TechHire Initiative Boot Camp, successful applicants will:

  • Be 18 years old or older
  • Be able to commit 20-40 hours/week to training
  • Be underemployed or unemployed
  • Have access to Internet

Written by Kristin Emery, special to Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board