White House and Barack Obama Scale Up TechHire Initiative, Push for More Makerspaces in K-12

White House and Barack Obama Scale Up TechHire Initiative, Push for More Makerspaces in K-12


“Creating over consuming” may well be the tagline for the White House and Department of Education’s agenda this week in Austin. Plenty of Washington officials are already milling about, setting the stage for President Obama’s keynote at SXSW on Saturday, March 11. In anticipation of his arrival, the federal government announced a slew of updates about its efforts to train learners of all ages, from K-12 to higher education and beyond.

For Adult Learners: TechHire Grows Its Communities to 50

Today, representatives from federal and state government shared news about the expansion of the TechHire initiative, a partnership with universities and community colleges launched in March 2015 to help middle-class Americans develop the IT skills necessary for many higher-wage positions.

According to Jacob Leibenluft, Deputy Director for the National Economic Council, there are now 50 TechHire communities (essentially cities) in the U.S.—more than double last year’s starting number of 21. Fifteen of those communities just launched—including Seattle, where Leibenluft says businesses, schools and other local organizations are banding to offer “accelerated training programs” in technology and computer science, “including full-stack development training for women.”

Another new TechHire community sprouted in Rhode Island, whose Governor, Gina Raimondo, shared her ambitions for the program: “We’ve put a goal to train and place 2,000 people over the next four years into high-wage, tech-related jobs, and we’re placing emphasis on non-traditional job seekers.”

While there are no federal dollars explicitly earmarked to support new TechHire communities, Leibenluft reports that there are opportunities for cities and organizations to acquire funding to support their efforts. He calls out the $100 million TechHire grant competition as an example, in which TechHire communities can apply for H-1B funds from the Department of Labor (DOL) to expand accelerated tech training, including at least $50 million specifically dedicated to supporting disadvantaged youth in America.

For College Students: New STEM Career Opportunities for Immigrants

Higher education is also getting support from a place one might not expect: the Department of Homeland Security. Beginning May 10, immigrant students in accredited STEM degree programs will be able to participate in the STEM Optional Practical Training program (STEM OPT), which offers them the opportunity to stay in the United States after graduating for on-the-job training.

According to the White House, STEM OPT will allow immigrant STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) students to stay in the U.S. for up to 36 months after graduation. This applies to both associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, and higher level degrees—meaning that students who go on to attain more than one STEM degree can further their stay beyond the 36 month maximum.

Tom Kalil, Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation at the Office of Science and Technology Policy, reports that students who previously earned a STEM degree, but are now working toward a non-STEM degree, are also eligible. (For example, someone who got a B.S. in Chemistry but is currently in an MBA program).

According to Kalil, the STEM OPT program will strengthen immigrant job training, and subsequently strengthen the STEM workforce in the United States.

“Immigrants have always made a great contribution to America’s economy,” says Kalil. “One study found that 26 percent of all U.S.-based Nobel Laureates were foreign-born, and 25 percent of venture-backed companies are founded by immigrants.”

For K-12 Students: Pushing for More Makerspaces

Younger students—and their teachers and parents—also have reason to celebrate. As part of the White House’s “Nation of Makers” movement, the White House and Department of Education are revving up their support of the Maker movement with a three-pronged approach.

First, the Department of Education is launching a series of “career and technical education makeover challenges,” which will allow students to design and make items that are personal and intimate to their lives—including makerspaces. Second, in collaboration with the department, Digital Promise and Maker Ed are launching “Maker Promise,” a campaign to encourage more students to make, more schools to create makerspaces, and more teachers to push the Maker movement in instruction.

Kalil reports that the White House is also once again celebrating the White House Maker Faire with an entire Maker Week, June 17-23. “You’ve got individuals who are interested in being creators and makers, not just consumers,” Kalil shares.

Rhode Island’s Governor Romando agrees, and shares that while these announcements at first feel disparate, “This is all about creating a pipeline of skilled folks—and you have to start young.”

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