IT job program for minority women could come to B.C.

Battle Creek Inquirer 

By: Justin Hinkley 

DETROIT — On the same day a nationwide job training and placement program was unveiled in Detroit, officials from the program and from Battle Creek met quietly to talk about bringing the initiative to the Cereal City.
In a fanfare-filled event at the Westin Book Cadillac Tuesday morning, the Aliso Viejo, Calif.-based information technology firm UST Global announced it would bring its Step It Up America initiative in the Motor City. The program invites 100 minority women into a 90-day training program on information technology, pays those women a stipend during training and then helps them land an IT job with a local firm, according to speakers at Tuesday’s event. Officials said they train participants for advanced IT jobs that could include programming computers and software for manufacturers.
Detroit is one of 10 cities in which UST Global hopes to implement the program, for a total of 1,000 women trained and put on the job.
Kellogg Community College President Dennis Bona and Jim Hettinger, the retired head of Battle Creek Unlimited, met privately Tuesday afternoon with the initiative’s backers to talk about bringing it here. The Battle Creek pair met in Detroit with Sajan Pillai, UST Global’s CEO, and with Carlos Gutierrez, who lived in Battle Creek while president and CEO of the Kellogg Co. Gutierrez is vice chairman [we will correct this] of the Washington-based Albright Stonebridge Group, a partner in the initiative.
Gutierrez also served as President George W. Bush’s commerce secretary from 2005 to 2009.
Bona said Tuesday evening the discussion was about the initiative focusing regionally in southwestern Michigan, with Battle Creek perhaps acting as a hub for a program that might bring in participants from Grand Rapids to Jackson and even as far south as Fort Wayne, Ind. He said Step It Up’s backers were looking for women to go through the 90-day crash course and then receive continuing training while on the job, in which community colleges would play a role.
Bona said officials planned to meet again in Battle Creek within two to four weeks, with more community colleges, some area employers and possibly the W.K. Kellogg Foundation included.
Bona said chances were “better than a coin flip” that something would get rolling in Battle Creek, but more would be known after the follow-up meeting.
“There’s no guarantee anything will come of it, but at least we’re all at the table,” he said. “We were very encouraged by their level of interest, and I think they were encouraged by our level of interest.”
Pillai said Tuesday morning the longer-term goal for the program was for it to expand to 50 communities, including the 10 major cities, for a total of 5,000 women served. He said smaller cities like Battle Creek would offer more support than larger cities where it was harder to bring more people to the table. Gutierrez said Battle Creek was a prime spot for the program because of KCC, the Kellogg Foundation and the presence of corporations that could hire Step It Up graduates.
A message seeking comment was left Tuesday with Hettinger, but was not immediately returned. Hettinger attended the morning session, along with officials from the Kellogg Co., the Kellogg Foundation and Denso Manufacturing Michigan Inc. Other cities in the state were represented as well.
“This is not a handout program; this is giving a helping hand,” Pallai said in the morning presentation. “There is a big difference between the two.”
In May, the program will begin training women in Detroit and will offer graduates full-time jobs. Two other cities — Atlanta and Philadelphia — already launched programs, and seven others will start later this year.
Initially, Detroit was not among cities where the program would be rolled out, but it was added, Pillai said, because the company got so many calls from Michigan requesting it.
UST Global is covering the cost of the program, about $10 million-$15 million per city, Pillai said.
A few years ago, when UST Global was expanding into Mexico, it used a similar model to train 30,000 IT workers.
Natalie Frazier, who is in the program in Atlanta, said before she started the class, she lacked confidence and a job and knew nothing about technology.
At one point in her life, she said, she was even homeless.
“I stand before you today, and can tell you, I’m an IT professional,” the 48-year-old said.
Candyce Lewis, 27, of Stone Mountain, Ga., said she is getting paid $12 an hour to go to classes in Atlanta. The program has helped her realize that she could have a job in a field where she had seen few women succeed. She said it had changed her life.
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