Politics

Louisville’s efforts to train people for jobs in the technology industry will be on a national stage during President Obama’s visit to the city Thursday.

Louisville has become a model for how cities and the White House can work together with companies to fill the growing number of vacant tech jobs in the U.S.

Like other employers in the tech industry, Vidya Ravichandranhas has a growing problem. As president of Louisville software development company Glowtouch, she can’t find people with the proper skills to fill the jobs she opens.

“Many times we just don’t end up filling the positions and some projects may just not end up seeing the light of day, or projects take much longer to get completed,” Ravichandran said.

Her problem isn’t unique in Louisville, and it’s caught the attention of people such as Rider Rodriguez of Kentuckiana Works, a workforce development organization.

“It’s kind of this vicious cycle,” Rodriguez said. “So we don’t have a lot of software developers here because we don’t have a lot of software developers growing up. You don’t run into a lot of people who have those skills and do those jobs.”

That’s why about three years ago, Rodriguez and Ravichandran worked with city officials to create a program called Code Louisville.

It’s a free 12-week online coding workshop that anyone with a Louisville Free Public Library card can access.

Unlike other high-skilled and high-paying jobs, many tech jobs require skills and not necessarily degrees. So, once people finish the course, the program gets them in touch with employers looking to hire people who know how to code.

Ravichandran said that makes the turnaround from training to getting a job much faster. That, she said, is good for everyone.

“So for us it’s really more about the person’s ability to do the job rather than where they come from and what educational background they have, because we find that a lot of people are in the coding area that are developers tend to develop a lot of skills on their own,” she said.

Rodriguez said filling these jobs is also a win-win for the city because many of them pay well.

Jobs for junior staff can start at $40,000, he said.

“But very quickly you are moving up median wage for these jobs are approaching $70,000 a year—and if you are a bit more experienced you are pushing six figures,” he said.

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Code Louisville began more than a year ago with about a half-dozen participants, and have grown since then.

Ravichandran said she can already thank Code Louisville for a new hire in her app development department. She and some city officials recently visited the White House to talk about what Louisville is doing right.

Ravichandran said other cities big and small have tried to run similar programs, but haven’t seen as much as success.

“Kentuckiana Works and Code Louisville is actually trying to put together a program that we can essentially go and train other cities on how they can put  programs like this in place,” she said.

“There have been some cities that have expressed interest in coming here and learning about our model so that they can try to replicate it.”

There’s federal money out there for similar efforts, too. Last month, the White House announced $100 million in grants for cities looking to increase access to tech jobs.

Neither Ravichandran nor Rodriguez think Kentucky could become the next Silicon Valley, but they think these programs will make a difference.

A better-trained tech workforce will make it easier for start-ups to launch in the city, as well as making it easier for people interested in coding and other tech skills to get a job in Louisville if they want one.