Chattanooga program helps low- and moderate-income workers get Google IT certification

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Stacey Bradley and Tai Norman listen as Charolette Brand introduces herself to the EMPACT students on March 28, 2022, at the Youth and Family Development Center. The nine-week program allows the students to receive their Google information technology certification.

Stacey Bradley, a single mother who lives in East Brainerd, has worked for the past seven years as an educational assistant helping students get interested in science and technology in Hamilton County schools.

Bradley said she was eager to pursue a technology career herself, but the cost of tuition, child care and lost income to pursue information technology training in college proved to be a financial struggle.

"I was going to have to come up with about $5,000, which would have been very difficult for me," she said in an interview Monday.

Bradley said a dream opportunity opened up for her when she heard about a new training program to aid low- and moderate-income workers get a Google information technology certification while being paid to go to school. The program was launched with its first class of 10 students last year, and a second class began a similar nine-week class Monday at the Chattanooga Youth and Family Development center on the Westside.

"This is a great opportunity to update and improve my skills and income and get in a field with lots of opportunity," said Tai Norman, an Army veteran who previously worked in information technology in the military and is trying to develop an app for employment placement.

"With the certification and the job placement," Norman said, "this program is almost guaranteeing you if you work and complete the course, you'll get a good salary."

The Google information technology certification course provides training in computer software and maintenance, as well as a $4,500 stipend and child care to help lower income individuals improve their job skills and income. Students wanting to go even further with their skill development can use the 12 college credit hours from the program to pursue additional training at Chattanooga State Community College or other Tennessee schools.

"IT is the future, and the sky really is the limit for you," Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly told Bradley, Norman and other students gathered on the first day of the 2022 EMPACT (Economic Mobility Program for Advancement and Career Training) program Monday morning. "These credits are transferable, so you can use this as a springboard for even more training to go from here."

The training provides both technical and so-called soft skills training in job interviewing. Each student is given a Chromebook laptop to learn how to operate and program as well as make hardware fixes to maintain such devices. The program also aids in transportation for participants.

Terra Garth, a 30-year-old single mother with three children, moved to College Hill Courts last year and recently got accepted into the program. She is able to walk to the training site each day while getting child care help for her children.

"I want a professional job, and I think this is a great opportunity to make that happen," she said during the opening day class Monday.

Filling the talent pipeline

Organizers say the program aids not only the participants, but Chattanooga's overall economy by helping supply more workers for one of the most in-demand occupations in Chattanooga.

"Employers tell us all the time that these are the type of employees that they are seeking and are sometimes having a hard time finding and retaining," Ellis Smith, director of special projects for the city of Chattanooga, said at Monday's event. "One of our goals is to keep as many good-paying jobs as we can in Chattanooga, and this helps supply one of the biggest employer needs right now."

Smith said while there are other training and educational program in the region, the information technology program is focused on removing many of the barriers that keep some workers from getting the training they need for high-demand, higher-paying jobs.

"Some of our students have lost their jobs due to COVID; some have lived in public housing for generations and many are the first in their family to get an education beyond high school with this training," Charolette Brand, economic mobility program coordinator, told reporters Monday during a news conference about the program. "This program can truly be life changing for generations."

Partnering for success

In the first class that graduated in December, eight of the 10 students completed the nine-week course and three are now employed in information technology jobs.

The program is a partnership with the Skill-up Program at Chattanooga State, which was launched two years ago, and the Tech Goes Home program sponsored by the Enterprise Center.

The program is funded with CARES Act allocations for the Community Services Block Grant program. The city worked with Chattanooga State, The Enterprise Center, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce and the American Jobs Center to help launch the program last fall. Rachel Howard, director of the city's Office of Family Empowerment, told reporters that program organizers are already working on more classes and funding sources once the current class graduates in June.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340. Follow him on Twitter @dflessner1.