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Staff photo by Tim Barber / Bo Drake is vice president of Economic and Workforce Development at Chattanooga State.

In a small classroom in the city's Office of Family Empowerment on the Westside just a couple of blocks from where recent shootings claimed the lives of three local residents, 11 individuals on Monday launched a new training program that both participants and leaders expect could change the students' lives and careers and help local businesses to grow.

Aided by both government and private funding sources, participants in the first IT Skill-up training program began a 9-week training program to gain Google certification in information technology to either pursue a degree program in IT or take one of the many unfilled computer software and IT operations support jobs now available in Chattanooga. For participants who range in age from their late teens to the early 60s, the course pays an hourly wage of $12.50 while the students are introduced to computer technologies and guided through a range of skills needed at jobs across nearly all industries.

"It's imperative that we re-skill and prepare our workforce for the jobs of the future and this class and others like it we are now planning will help us get there," said Bo Drake, vice president of economic workforce development at Chattanooga State Community College. "We have a massive skill shortage and our K-12 education system and the students it graduates are not going to be enough to rescue us. We really have to train more people who are available and have a desire to learn."

A recent survey by the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) found that roughly half of the 1.6 million job openings that will be generated this year will go unfilled. Such job vacancy are limiting the growth of many businesses, ITAA said.

The IT Skill-up program provides instructor-led, hands-on training for city residents selected for the program through the American Job Center based upon their current job status and reading and math skills to complete the Google certification. This week, instructors from the Tech Goes Home course will provide participants with hardware and training "so that they can hit the ground running with the certification program," said Deb Socia, president of The Enterprise Center which sponsors the program.

"We're pleased to support this opportunity which will give residents, who may previously have little experience with technology, the chance to work in a career that would provide a living wage," Socia said.

Many of the participants walked to the classroom Monday from nearby College Hill Courts.

Sharon Dragg, the president of the College Hill Courts tenants association and one of the participants in the new course, said at age 63 she is eager to develop her IT skills "because this is what is in demand today and it's something I didn't learn when I was in school."

After the initial one-week Tech Goes Home course, the remaining eight weeks of the program will focus solely on the IT Support certification using the Google curriculum to prepare the students for such in-demand jobs as technical support specialist, data center technician, IT help desk, IT technician, IT support specialist, computer support specialist, IT help desk technician, computer support, technical support specialist-level 1, or IT assistant.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual pay for such positions starts at $50,000.

For those who get their Google certification from the IT Skill-up program, they are eligible for 12 credit hours toward IT degrees at Chattanooga State Community College, Drake said.

The city, Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce and Chattanooga State jointly announced the IT Skill-up program last year with backing from both the Benwood Foundation and the Regions Bank foundation.

"This has been an incredible journey over the past 10 months, but our focus has never wavered," Drake said, noting he hopes to soon launch two similar IT Skill-up programs for another 20 students.

Drake said there is already a list of over 100 persons interested in enrolling in the IT Skill-up program.

Drake said a challenge to the program is to identify funding sources for the $4,500 of wages paid to each of the participants during the 9-week program to help allow more adults to change and improve their careers and help meet the sill demands of the current and future job market.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340.

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