Updated March 26 at 7:54am

Five Questions With: Kathie Shields

Kathie Shields, executive director of Tech Collective, talks about the $7.5 million initiative named Tech Force Rhode Island, designed to address the state’s information technology industry employment and workforce needs.

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Five Questions With: Kathie Shields

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Kathie Shields, executive director of Tech Collective, the state’s information technology and bioscience industry association, talked with Providence Business News recently about the new Tech Force Rhode Island initiative.

In October 2014, Rhode Island received $7.5 million in U.S. Department of Labor Ready to Work Partnership funding to address the state’s information technology industry employment and workforce needs. Workforce Solutions of Providence/Cranston, with partnering agencies Workforce Partnership of Greater Rhode Island and Tech Collective, received funds. The grant programs and services were named Tech Force Rhode Island.

PBN: What is the Tech Force Rhode Island grant program?

SHIELDS: Tech Force aims to develop Rhode Island’s IT workforce pipeline with training programs and services designed to assist long-term unemployed and underemployed individuals. At the same time, the grant will provide Rhode Island IT employers with in-demand and qualified IT talent.

This is accomplished by creating an industry-led accelerated pathway into IT careers. The IT industry is an innovative one in which traditional education is not required to enter or advance. Simultaneously, it is one of the highest-demand industries for a skilled workforce. Rhode Island [Labor Market Information] 2022 Industry Outlook data projects the computer and mathematical occupational group to be one of the fastest growing. Also, among LMI’s “2012-2020 - 50 Fastest Growing Occupations,” five are IT occupations.

Being able to job coach, skill-up and match participants to currently open IT jobs with employers makes Tech Force an ideal opportunity for Rhode Island. It prepares Rhode Islanders to work in high-paying, sustainable jobs – at $79,226 annually, the average IT salary is nearly double the average private sector wage; and it equips employers with the skill sets they need to continue to grow and innovate.

PBN: How will it help employers fill jobs? And help employees find jobs?

SHIELDS: At the core of Tech Force is an employer-driven demand approach. Tech Force works closely with Rhode Island IT companies and IT employers across other industries to understand their talent needs – both technical skills and business/customer service skills. As Tech Force participants enter the program, their training is matched to their background and experience in technical or other transferrable skills as well as in-demand career paths aligned with employer need.

Participants enter one of three training strategies along an accelerated education and career pathway:

  • Intensive coaching, short-term services and job placement assistance

  • Short or long-term skills training

  • IT on Demand soft skills and technical training

As this is occurring, qualified participants are referred to employers with open positions. Employers interview and select candidates they wish to hire. Additional training, resources and on-the-job training funding is available to offset up to 50 percent of employers’ cost to hire and train Tech Force participants. The outcome is a well-rounded and industry-recognized approach to developing the talent pipeline and addressing employer demand.

PBN: How many people are involved in the program? Do you have a maximum number that can participate each year?

SHIELDS: The Tech Force grant is awarded through October 2018. During that time 476 individuals are expected to receive services. All Tech Force activities – from receiving applications and job coaching to training and employer outreach – occur on a rolling basis. This allows us to serve a diverse number of participants while ensuring we are meeting current industry needs.

PBN: Does one have to have a background in information technology to participate?

SHIELDS: Tech Force RI services are available to candidates with and without technology backgrounds. There are hundreds of people out there who have tech skills or an interest in tech, who, for whatever reason, might not have had the opportunity to pursue it as a career path. There are others who maybe previously have not explored an IT career but have transferrable skills from previous work; they will enter the industry for the first time through Tech Force. Other program participants will have IT experience and will need to update their tech or business skills to re-enter the IT workforce. The program is flexible to meet various needs for a diverse array of participants as well as employers.

Applicants do need to meet eligibility requirements (18 years of age or older; be a US citizen or able to work in the US; have a high school diploma/GED, post-secondary degree, or applicable work experience; be long-term unemployed/other unemployed; and be a R.I. resident or out-of-state resident who worked in and collected unemployment insurance through the state of Rhode Island). Applicants are then invited to an information and assessment session in which they will learn about Tech Force services, take a program assessment and interview one-on-one with Tech Force staff.

PBN: What do you hope the program accomplishes?

SHIELDS: The goals of Tech Force are to achieve success on several fronts. The most immediate goals are to serve 476 individuals, to place many of them in IT careers and to lessen the skills gap by equipping individuals with specialized skills that local IT employers need right now. We hope Tech Force will be an important part of a larger conversation that represents an opportunity to redefine the way we train and employ Rhode Island’s workforce. This plan of action is designed to stimulate Rhode Island’s economy by aligning employer needs with educational training programs that give our unemployed workforce the opportunity to learn and develop skills in an industry with unparalleled growth potential. It is an opportunity to foster Rhode Island’s technology workforce, industry and economy across the board.

Nationally, we hope Tech Force will lead Rhode Island in demonstrating the viability of a non-traditional approach to workforce development and serve as a model to implement across states and across industries.

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