TechSF to prepare SF residents, students for technology, IT fields

San Franciscans majoring in technology and IT fields at SF State have new reason to be hopeful that they will avoid joining others in the unemployment line.

Through a grant program launched in March, San Francisco will be working with local tech companies and educational resources, such as SF State and City College of San Francisco, to develop courses in 2013 to hone skills needed in the tech field

The program, TechSF, is geared at staffing the future of the city’s technology and IT workers, according to Mayor San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee in a press release. The program is funded by a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.

“The TechSF program is designed to facilitate training for our students, many of whom are SF residents, and matching our students up with tech companies in SF,” said William Hsu, associate professor in the Computer Science Department in the College of Science and Engineering. “It will improve the job prospects of SF residents, and the streamlined matching up of residents with local tech companies will benefit the city’s economy.”

SF State’s College of Science and Engineering will play a vital role in TechSF according to Hsu.

“This project will directly impact students by training them the skills needed to be competitive in the SF tech job market and by bringing them the job and internship opportunities,” Hsu said.

Currently, Hsu and colleagues are determining the skill-set students will need in the tech industry. Once that is determined, specific training can begin at SF State.

Although the program is still in the planning stages for SF State’s involvement, students can now utilize job placement and internship opportunities on TechSF’s website.

“Students may even be able to earn academic credit by doing internships,” Hsu said.

A few companies participating in the grant program include AT&T, IBM Corp., Sega, Mozilla, UCSF Medical Center, The Exploratorium and CBS Interactive, according to the press release.

Julie Trias, 29, senior computer engineering major who works as an office IT for Wikipedia, spoke at the launch of TechSF, held at the Civic Center Oct. 23, to encourage use of the program.

“I’m glad TechSF exists. It gets rid of a lot of anxiety students have about finding jobs because now the school and TechSF are helping,” Trias said. “I would encourage SF State students to choose a program that is catered to the IT skills. San Francisco is the place to be and this is the program to go for, if you’re in the area.”

TechSF aims to place 2,500 residents in the tech sector jobs by 2017 at a pace of 500 per year.  Tech sector jobs are positions that relate to providing technological goods and services through development and distribution, or research. There are now 80 individuals in the TechSF training program at different sites around the city.

Recent unemployment rates for the city showed a decline from 8.1 percent in January 2012 to 6.9 percent in September 2012., according to the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development.

TechSF is specifically designed to provide training for SF residents and to connect them to tech jobs where they can utilize their skills. The program aims to help transitional youth (18-25 year-olds), incumbent workers and the long-term unemployed.

Incumbent workers are workers that are employed in the tech field presently but need new skills. Most of these workers are here on H1-B visas that allows residency for specific job skills they can bring to local companies. H1-B visas require applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree, and the position they are obtaining must require a bachelor’s degree as well.

“For the training program funded by the H1-B grant, trainees need to be eligible for services in the city and county of San Francisco,” Matt Spaur, strategic communications manager for WestEd. WestEd is the project manager for TechSF and is responsible for tracking the TSTG grant funds.

Long-term unemployed or under-employed participants must have lost their job during the recession that started in 2008. This program section is harder to track because participants can access information online, creating more leniency in residency requirements, according to Spaur.

Trias, who has a background as a broadcast engineering technician in the U.S. Army, plans to utilize the incumbent workers program, if she ever needs to transition into another job from Wikipedia.

TechSF is “not quite a guarantee, but it’s pretty close” to landing a job, Spaur said.

TechSF offers skills that cater to what tech companies desire employees have and what those employees will use on a daily basis. Participants can train in IT support, networking and security, programming and multimedia fields.

Training last between two months and two years. The majority of the programs can be finished in one semester, according to John Halpin, director of program operations for workforce development at OEWD, who oversees TechSF.

“Students will be able to learn recent technologies in short courses, tutorials, workshops and other formats that can respond to rapid technological changes in a more agile way than traditional degree coursework,” Hsu said.

The program is about the city and its workers by connecting San Franciscans to job opportunities, according to Spaur.

“It is about being able to provide job placement assistance, as well as information about the tech sector,” Halpin said. “Having a strong partnership with local companies that are committed” to hiring locally will benefit SF State students and city residents.

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