The first cohort of men and women taking part in the TechHire Eastern Kentucky (TEKY) initiative was recognized Wednesday, Jan. 4 for completing the curriculum and computer coding certifications as they transition to a work-based learning internship for Interapt, a Louisville-based tech innovator and TEKY partner.
The 35 individuals began the program on Sept. 6, taking part in an innovative and immersive curriculum created through collaborative work between Interapt and Eleven Fifty Academy of Indianapolis that will help them develop the skills needed to code without having to earn a traditional degree through a four-year college or technical school.
“A lot of people have come up to me, business leaders not around just the Commonwealth, to talk about the program,” Interapt CEO Ankur Gopal said as he spoke during the ceremony the company’s East Kentucky division, located on the Mayo campus of Big Sandy Community and Technical College in Paintsville. “They have asked, will that work? Is that really working? Are you really able to teach someone that much coding skill to really get them to work at a high-tech company? And I tell them, it is working.”
“The entire world is watching you,” he continued. “We’re building a workforce in Kentucky, we’re building a company in Kentucky, we’re solving million-dollar problems for big Fortune 500 companies, and we have the skills, acumen, dedication, and drive to do it.”
TEKY is a public/private partnership designed to help further the growth of a technology ecosystem in Eastern Kentucky that will put the region’s workers on a fast track to becoming computer coders or other middle- to high-skill tech professionals. The internship program is led by Interapt and located in Paintsville.
Funding for TEKY was awarded to the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc. (EKCEP) via a $2.75 million grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) on Aug. 24, 2016. Along with EKCEP’s workforce development funding from the U.S. Department of Labor, the award will help up to 200 Eastern Kentuckians complete the TEKY work-based learning internship program with Interapt over the next three years.
ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl Gohl said it is imperative that this new ecosystem affords the people of Eastern Kentucky the same opportunities that citizens in other regions have, and partnerships like the one that brought the first group of interns to Interapt are essential.
“The challenge that the ARC has, and actually we all share it, is how do we work to build the ecosystem to make sure that when entrepreneurs and other leaders have an idea and they collide with opportunities, what is the system that we have in place to make sure, or at least increase the likelihood, that those folks are successful, that the initiative is successful, that they’re winning?” Gohl said as he spoke at the ceremony. “Clearly in Eastern Kentucky we have some catching up to do on the winning side, so it’s so important that we have those systems in place.”
The first cohort of TEKY interns was selected from a pool of nearly 850 applicants from across Eastern Kentucky. Once they complete the work-based learning portion of their internship, these men and women will be eligible for full-time positions with Interapt, though they will also be well positioned to enter the technology jobs market with other employers, noted EKCEP Executive Director Jeff Whitehead.
“This first group of TEKY interns is really a major step for Eastern Kentucky’s economy and what we hope to accomplish with a regional technology ecosystem,” said Whitehead. “We want them to be positioned to enter the workforce and have the skills needed to meet employers’ needs well into the future.”
This ecosystem, Whitehead added, represents a more diverse economy for Central Appalachia and all-new employment opportunities in a region of the country that has suffered extreme job loss in the wake the coal industry’s decline.
EKCEP Director of Agency Expansion Michael Cornett said the interns have reached the midpoint of this new Eastern Kentucky tech experience, and are more than ready to take the next steps in their journey.
“It’s a very momentous occasion indeed because it signifies that the 35 people who were on stage today have met the mark, have earned the certifications that they need and now they’re going to be taken on by Interapt as full interns working toward employment with the company doing code, making mobile apps work, and achieving the vision that we set out to do with TEKY from day one,” Cornett said.
For 15 years, Scott Bowen worked in the coal industry for a mineral processing lab. With the downturn in the local economy, Bowen saw the loss of his job and the lack of prospects for employment in his home region. Bowen said he walked with his head held high across the graduation stage on Wednesday, accepting both his coding certification and the chance at a new career.
“That’s the biggest thing that I try to remind people is, it’s still happening every day, people losing their job, people don’t know where they’re going to turn or where they’re going to go. I was just fortunate enough to get into this,” Bowen said. “It’s hard to put how I’m feeling right now into words. It’s an amazing experience. I’m so proud and I’m just looking forward to the future to how this ride will end.”
Bowen added that he wanted to thank all of the people and organizations that made it possible for he and his fellow interns to be a part of the program.
“It’s not hard to succeed when you’ve got a lot of people helping you,” Bowen added.
TEKY partners include EKCEP, Interapt, Big Sandy Community and Technical College, Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR), and the ARC. The project is also part of the White House’s national TechHire initiative, which named Eastern Kentucky an official TechHire community in March 2015.
To learn more or get involved with the TechHire Initiative, visit www.techhire.org.