Top Detroit Tech Companies Launch Program to Beef Up Talent

It’s a criticism that’s often heard in Michigan tech circles: The biggest challenge in growing the local IT sector is a glaring lack of talent. It’s not that we don’t produce people capable of filling the many open tech jobs here, it’s that we have a hard time keeping them in the state. A new program launched last week called IT in the D aims to reverse that trend.

IT in the D, a partnership between Detroit’s biggest tech companies—Quicken Loans, GalaxE.Solutions, Compuware Ventures, Fathead, and Marketing Associates—and local universities, is a training program designed to help students transition between the classroom and the workplace by offering mentorship and a chance to work on real-world IT projects.

“In Detroit, we do need a lot of technical expertise,” says Linglong He, CIO of Quicken Loans, which ranked No. 5 on IDG Computerworld Magazine’s 2012 list of the 100 Best Places to Work in IT. “Because of Michigan’s economy, a lot of students are leaving the state after they graduate. There’s a gap between resources and supply, and we’re providing the training to fill that gap between school and the real world.”

The pilot class of 32 students, which began June 19, will attend classes twice a week for 10 weeks. The goal, says Michelle Salvatore, Quicken Loan’s Director of Recruiting, is that participants leave with the IT skills to land a job and stay in Detroit. “We have a laser focus on the brain gain: how to keep people in Detroit, how to train them, and how to employ them—which helps all companies in Detroit.”

This isn’t the first push to attract tech talent to downtown Detroit. In April, Quicken Loans announced a group of companies in the Quicken family were actively trying to woo 2,000 recently laid off Yahoo employees to the city through a website where tech professionals could upload their resumes for immediate consideration.

Salvatore says that, in January, Quicken Loans had 368 open tech positions, and just over 100 of those jobs remain unfilled today. “We need tech professionals: developers, engineers, business development—the entire gamut.” College grads say they want to live in an urban core, she adds, and companies like Quicken Loans want to keep them in Detroit. “Interns don’t usually have enough experience to get hired in our company, so we’re giving them the training they need.”

Quicken Loans’ He says the fast and perpetually changing nature of technology development makes it difficult to teach at a university. College classes are good for learning the fundamentals, she says, but those skills aren’t enough. IT in the D will deploy 35 volunteers from the participating companies to teach .Net, Java, SQL Server, MY SQL, and PHP to students in downtown Detroit, in a Compuware Building classroom meant to mimic the workplace. “We’re looking for graduates or professionals in need of a job who already have a basic skill set,” she notes. “They’ll work side-by-side with our team members to learn our methodology.” There is no fee for the classes, which are being funded by the partner companies at the moment, though outside funding may be sought at a later date.

He says that IT in the D’s organizers will fine-tune the program after feedback from the inaugural class and hold a another 10-week training session in the fall. The pilot class will build the program’s website, which will be online in a few months. In the meantime, those interested in more information or in signing up for the fall classes should contact [email protected]

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