White House taxes Silicon Valley to skill-up American workers

You want foreign workers? Cough up

President Obama will charge Silicon Valley a "user fee" to import more foreign workers and use the money to train up under-qualified Americans for jobs in the tech sector.

Announcing his TechHire program yesterday, Obama estimated that the government will bring in $100m by opening up the H1-B visa program a little and charging firms .

That's something that many tech companies have been asking for, most notably Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg. It's also something that Microsoft actually proposed two years ago.

The money raised will be spent on grants to organizations that offer coding bootcamps and online courses to American citizens who lack the current skills needed for tech work. The idea is that it's a win-win with rich Silicon Valley tech companies funding skills programs across the United States.

Speaking at the National League of Cities annual meeting in Washington DC, President Obama said: "Right now America has more job openings than at any point since 2001. That's good news. We've got a lot of job openings. Here's the catch - over half a million of those jobs are technology jobs."

The "technology" jobs cover fields like software development, sysadmin, UI work and cybersecurity. And they typically pay 50 per cent more than the average private-sector job, but there are not enough Americans with the right skillsets.

At least in part. The president also highlighted what the White House feels is a blind spot in corporate America: insisting on a degree in computer science before awarding tech jobs.

"A lot of these jobs don't require a four-year degree in computer science," the President said. "They don't require you be an engineer. Folks can get the skills they need for these jobs in newer, streamlined, faster training programs. What's more, these tech jobs pay 50 percent more than the average private sector wage - which means they're a ticket into the middle class."

And so the TechHire program will link up programs across the US to test people's actual coding skills, as well as provide grants to people to take coding bootcamps and so get up to speed - referred to as "nontraditional training options".

The White House has put out a factsheet and created a webpage to give more details on the program. ®

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